Road to 1,000: Growing Pains Set Stage for Later Dominance

Ron Lemasters | 7/12/2018

JRM1000 News XFINITY Series

JRM's surge in its early days in the NASCAR Xfinity Series gave way to struggles in starts 251-500, but this era helped set up the dominance the team shows today as we continue our look at our Road to 1,000.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 12, 2018) – As well as the first 250 starts in JR Motorsports’ history went—eight victories, the first three-car race (at Charlotte in May of 2008) and assorted other firsts—the second 250 starts began with an event that promised more good things lay directly ahead.

Start No. 255 was a winner, as Jamie McMurray drove to his only victory for the team at Atlanta Motor Speedway, back when Hotlanta was the Labor Day home of NASCAR. McMurray started seventh in the 2010 edition, led the last 23 laps in his Hellmann’s No. 88 Chevrolet and earned victory No. 9 for the team. He had some help from teammate Josh Wise, too, as the teammates managed the competition between them as the race wore on. Ironically, McMurray passed Brad Keselowski for the win and held off a fast-closing Kyle Busch to the checkered.

Unfortunately, that season ended with just that victory to the team’s ledger, along with seven top-fives.

As the 2010 season ended, 2011 brought some high points, including one that found its way into the archives of NASCAR.

Danica Patrick started 12 races for the team in 2011, but her third one still lives in NASCAR’s record books. Patrick started 22nd and despite falling two laps down at one point, raced all the way to fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, her best finish for the team and still the best finish for a female driver in any NASCAR national touring series race. Her historic achievement broke the record for highest-finishing-female in NASCAR held by Sara Christian, who finished fifth at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway on Oct. 2, 1949 in the NASCAR Cup Series.

That wasn’t the only high point in that race for JRM (though they might not have known it at the time).

Brad Keselowski cut a tire on the final lap, handing the lead and the victory to Mark Martin, who was followed to the finish by...Justin Allgaier. What do those three have in common? All have won at least one race for JR Motorsports (Martin and Keselowski in 2008, Allgaier in 2017). Keselowski was third and Patrick fourth, but that was not the only evidence that JRM had—and would still—weave itself into the fabric of the NASCAR Xfinity Series for all time.

In that race, current drivers Elliott Sadler and Michael Annett finished 12th and 13th, respectively. Almirola was 15th in the other JRM car, and Kevin Harvick, one of seven drivers with four or more victories for the team, Scott Wimmer, Kelly Bires and Wise also competed. That’s 10 drivers in one race that had something to do with JRM at some point during its history.

Unfortunately, the 2011 season would come and go with no victories for the JRM squad. Aric Almirola was the full-time driver in the No. 88, and he notched seven top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 34 starts on the way to fourth in the points at the end of the season. Patrick had the top-five and three top-10s in her 12 starts, and Earnhardt Jr. had two top-fives and three top-10s in his four starts. The team entered 2012 with high hopes for more success.

Cole Whitt joined the team that year in the No. 88 car, joining Patrick in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com machine, with Earnhardt Jr. and Ron Fellows doing work in the No. 5. The 2012 season was one that got off to a rocky start. Patrick won the pole for the opener at Daytona and Whitt started eighth. The two would rather famously come together on lap 49, when a nudge from Whitt sent Patrick spinning in Turn 3 (that’s a YouTube favorite, by the way). She would finish 38th, Whitt would rally to fourth at the finish and Earnhardt Jr. wound up 15th.

Crew chief Tony Eury Sr. had brought Whitt on board, and his son Tony Jr. worked with Patrick, and by the end of the 2012 season it was clear that JRM would be a different team going forward. Patrick had run 10 NASCAR Cup races with GoDaddy for Tommy Baldwin’s team and would jump to Tony Stewart’s team for 2013, taking her sponsor along.

The final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway (starts 417 through 419) gave some idea where the team was headed. Regan Smith, who was out of the Furniture Row Cup car for 2013, ran a No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet for the team in the season finale and won the race, JRM’s only victory that year, while Whitt finished 10th and Patrick 13th. Smith would take over the No. 7 for 2013, while Patrick and Whitt moved on. Earnhardt Jr. would race his No. 88 four times and seven other drivers - Jeffrey Earnhardt, Fellows, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, McMurray, Johnny O’Connell and Brad Sweet - would share the No. 5 for a total of 33 starts.

Smith, who would propel the team forward over the next three seasons, won twice in 2013, putting in a thrilling drive in the final laps to win at Talladega in a close finish over Joey Logano and teammate Kahne in start No. 437. Ten starts later at Michigan, Smith won again over an up-and-coming driver named Kyle Larson while Sweet finished sixth. Things were definitely looking up, as Smith and crew chief Greg Ives put together a stellar season.

Smith would go on to finish third in series points that season, losing out to Austin Dillon by just 72 points and Sam Hornish Jr. by 69. In a bit of foreshadowing, the fourth-place finisher that year was Sadler, who trailed Smith by 18 points, and fifth place went to Allgaier.

The 2014 season would be the biggest to date for JRM, and it was heralded by the arrival of young Chase Elliott, Bill’s son, and sponsor NAPA Auto Parts. The 18-year-old made his first start for JRM at Daytona, start No. 491, and finished 15th. Smith continued his winning ways, taking JRM start No. 490 all the way to victory lane. It was his second restrictor-plate victory. The team didn’t know it at the time, but the two full-time drivers would battle all the way to the end of the season for the championship, which was the first for JR Motorsports in a NASCAR touring series.

Start No. 500 came at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on March 15, and Elliott took a ninth-place finish to Smith’s 10th-place result. Kevin Harvick, who joined the JRM lineup in 2014 on a part-time basis, was third in the same race.

Over its first 250 races, JRM earned eight victories and established itself as a player in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In the second 250 starts for the organization, five more wins were posted, four of them by Smith in the last 81 starts of the period. Next week, we’ll take a look at starts 501-750 on the Road to 1000! Don’t forget, we have prize packages and cold, hard cash for you to win! Click here for the Road to 1,000 Giveaway and register now!

 

JRM Road to 1000: Part 1

Articles

image

XFINITY Series Schedule

XFINITY Series Standings

After Ford EcoBoost 300*

Homestead-Miami Speedway | 11/17/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick (P)40400
2Cole Custer (P)4035-5
3Daniel Hemric (P)4033-7
4Christopher Bell # (P)4026-14
5Elliott Sadler2255-1785
6Matt Tifft2254-1786
7Justin Allgaier2251-1789
14Michael Annett632-3408