Kelley Earnhardt the Difference-Maker in JRM’s Success, Says Dale Jr.

Ron Lemasters | 11/27/2018

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kelley Earnhardt Miller News XFINITY Series

Our team may have Dale Jr.'s name on it but he credits our success - including three championships in five years - to his sister, Kelly Earnhardt Miller.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 27, 2018) – Most people assume that JR Motorsports, the company founded by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, is merely an adjunct of Hendrick Motorsports, the most successful team in NASCAR history.

Like most assumptions, that would be false, thank you very much.

True, Rick Hendrick is a co-owner of the company, and yes, JRM serves as a farm team of sorts for the Hendrick organization. Otherwise, it’s JRM against Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, giants of the sport who run their NASCAR Xfinity Series programs from within the belly of the respective beasts.

Not so with JRM, as Earnhardt Jr. explained last week in his eponymous Dale Jr. Download program from Dirty Mo Media. It is as much Kelley’s show as anyone’s, even his, he said, following Tyler Reddick’s Nov. 17 victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway that clinched the second straight championship for the team. It was the third in five seasons for JRM, competing as it does against the full might of much larger Cup organizations like Penske and Gibbs, and to a lesser extent, Roush Fenway and Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The greatest thing, sitting in that media center, was listening to Kelley talk,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “She is matter-of-fact. She is proud of what she did and she knows more than anyone what we just accomplished with how we do business.”

How Kelley and Dale do business is...watch the bottom line, do what makes sense and don’t spend stupid money. That’s it in a nutshell.

“People would be surprised at how strictly, monetarily and to the budget, we run our company and how compromising everyone is...the crew chiefs, the car chiefs,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “Those guys want the latest and greatest parts and pieces, they want to spend money to make speed. But they have to understand, if you have five things we can buy to make the car fast, you have to pick two. You don’t get all five here. Kelley holds them to that, and they buy in.”

Championship crew chief Dave Elenz, sitting beside Earnhardt Miller during the post-race conference, was doing a great imitation of a bobble-head doll.

“We have to pick the ones that are affordable, within the rules...all that stuff,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “We don’t want to spend $100,000 and get it taken away by NASCAR the next day. It’s a maze to navigate, and Kelley is deep, deep, deep in that maze with these guys. Boots on the ground, working every day.”

Earnhardt Miller was asked what the difference between JRM winning three titles in a span of five years and the other teams doing the same. There were no punches pulled.

“For us at JR Motorsports, we don’t live inside the Hendrick walls, and those teams that live inside the walls of those Cup organizations, they automatically have an advantage because they are within the whole corporate fold,” she said. “I think that’s why we’re different at JR Motorsports and I consider us kind of a stand-alone team in that regard.

“We’re buying the chassis and engines that Hendrick puts together, and we’re not involved in what that looks like and how that works. We’re really more of a customer.”

Vertical integration aside, it’s a relationship that works well for both sides. Earnhardt Miller watches the bottom line and sets the parameters, while Hendrick provides the equipment and the technology. It’s something that Earnhardt Jr. relishes as well.

“That’s why we run well,” he said. “Dave Elenz is working here because Hendrick wants to keep him in-house, and Hendrick wants to keep him in the fold. That’s why Kevin Meendering worked here, and why Greg Ives worked here. That’s why Travis Mack is back here. This is their farm team. We’re their farm team.”

There is not just a tech transfer between the companies. There’s a pipeline running from Mooresville to Concord that includes people, too. Crew chiefs, car chiefs, engineers, even public relations representatives...all are constantly moving up and down, and the down doesn’t mean that performance is lacking. Elenz, Meendering and Jason Burdett have all come from the big team to the smaller team and have combined to win 22 races over the past four seasons, as well as the two championships. Ives won the first one in 2014 with Elliott.

Both Elliott and William Byron are now NASCAR Cup drivers for Hendrick, and Ives is crew chief for Alex Bowman. Meendering will leave at the end of the season for HMS to guide seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson’s efforts in 2019.

Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t open up all that much about how Kelley runs the team that bears his name, but he did on this occasion.

“She’s so tough,” he said. “I see her as brother and sister all the time, so I think she’s kind of soft...she raised me. We have a lot of love for each other.”

That’s sister Kelley. ‘Boardroom’ Kelley is a bit different.

“When she sat down in that chair, it was like, “boardroom...” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s funny. When Rick Hendrick was in meetings with Kelley and she would shut her book...that was a sign that the meeting wasn’t going so well. They’d have to have a time-out and they’d go into a room and talk, and he’d go, ‘all right, what’s wrong? What didn’t you like?’ She doesn’t ever really go in the media center that much, but when she does...”

She lays it out, tells it straight, however you want to put it.

That’s the difference in three titles in five seasons and being just another NXS team.

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  • May 25 01:00 PM ET
    Alsco 300 at CharlotteCharlotte Motor Speedway
  • June 1 01:00 PM ET
    Pocono Green 250Pocono Raceway
  • June 8 01:30 PM ET
    LTi Printing 250Michigan International Speedway
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XFINITY Series Standings

After Allied Steel Buildings 200

Dover International Speedway | 5/4/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick4620
2Christopher Bell439-23
3Cole Custer391-71
4Austin Cindric381-81
5Justin Allgaier348-114
6Chase Briscoe #335-127
7John Hunter Nemechek #325-137
8Ryan Sieg315-147
9Noah Gragson #304-158
10Michael Annett297-165