The Calm Before the Storm: What JRM Has Done with a Week to Regroup

Ron Lemasters | 7/30/2020

Bass Pro Shops Brandt Daniel Hemric Jeb Burton Justin Allgaier Michael Annett News Noah Gragson Pilot Flying J Poppy Bank

When you’ve been running full-speed for a little more than two solid months, a weekend off is a blessing.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 29, 2020) – When you’ve been running full-speed for a little more than two solid months, a weekend off is a blessing.

When you’ve run 13 races in just 65 days—that’s a race every five days—you’re going to need to slow your roll a bit to make sure you’re where you need to be. That’s what JR Motorsports’ four-car team is doing at the moment inside its 66,000-square-foot shop, because once the season resumes, there will be 14 races in 91 days, ending with the winner-take-all season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7.

That’s a slightly-less-hectic pace of a race every 6.5 days, or something like a normal schedule to the end of the season. This off-weekend, barring some sort of special circumstances, will be the last until the season finale for the weary teams. That shows up as Nov. 7, three weeks from Thanksgiving, and it’ll be full-speed ahead until someone hoists the championship trophy in the Arizona desert in November.

To make it just a tad more difficult, three of the 10 races remaining until the playoff field is set are on road courses, which are notoriously hard on equipment. Road America on Aug. 8 is a known quantity to JRM, and the teams have run two races on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway (set for Oct. 10, after the other off-week). But no one in the building has turned a wheel—or a wrench—on the infield road course at Daytona International Speedway. The NXS will make its debut there on Aug. 15, the week after Road America.

There’s a race on the 2.5-mile tri-oval as well, and restrictor-plate racing is usually tough on equipment. That race is set for Aug. 28, just ahead of a doubleheader weekend at Dover. When things go wrong at The Monster Mile, they go really wrong, and you’re looking at a potential drain on available resources.

Heading into the off-week, all four JRM teams are in the playoff field, led by Noah Gragson (third in points). Justin Allgaier is seventh and Michael Annett is eighth, neither driver having visited Victory Lane yet this season. The No. 8 contingent (Daniel Hemric and Jeb Burton) is in the owner playoffs, sitting one point out of 10th with a healthy lead over the cut line before the run to the end of the season.

This off-week is coming at a fortuitous time for those in the race shop, said Jonathan Davis, car chief on Annett’s No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet.

“It gives the guys a little chance to recharge,” he said. “Life has been different with the way things are being scheduled now. We have limited time at the track, so once you get there, it’s go-go-go and then you kind of wait-wait-wait. It’s still a lot of long days and early mornings. This gives everybody time to recharge everybody at home, you get to spend some time with your family on the weekend, and hopefully it will be nice out. The road guys are going to get a couple of days off during the week so they can do what they want and recharge.”

Taylor Moyer, crew chief of the No. 8 Chevrolet for JRM, split his team up for the week off.

“We split our guys, so the car chief and engineer are off,” Moyer said. “We haven’t had any free time because of COVID from the start of the season and you’re not going to have any until the end of the season. With small crews of people, you have to stay motivated and need to get your mind off it a little bit so you can get some fresh ideas. We split our crew, so we’ll always have somebody here working on our cars and progress on the cars won’t stop. Everybody needs a little relaxation. We are ahead of schedule on car builds, and there’s no more practice, so we don’t have that question anymore.”

While there is no question about whether they’ll practice or not, there are several more that have yet to be addressed. The biggest one will be racing on the road course at Daytona.

“We have Road America and the Daytona road courses coming up,” Moyer said. “Road America is going to be a little bit of a wild-card with the crews pitting the cars, so we are taking the time to work on some pit stops. The second one is kind of a wild-card too, because even though we’ll have our pit crew and our normal spotter back, we’ve never been there, we’ll have no practice and our data is off the simulator. We’re using simulated data for everything, even gears. We predicted the Indy road course just fine, as an organization.”

Davis, who helped Annett to a ninth-place finish on the Indy road course, said the key to success is keeping it between the edges of the pavement when negotiating the twisty bits.

“Everyone is in the same boat...as far as not knowing the track,” he said. “It’s going to come down to who is best prepared on and off the track. I always say in these Xfinity races, from the time they wave the green flag, whether you practice or you don’t, if you keep all four tires on the asphalt and don’t run into any other cars, you’ll finish in the top six. That’s our goal. We did a really good job of that at Indy, even though we spun it out once in practice, and we finished ninth.”

That said, the schedule is daunting to say the least. Moyer laid it out.

“Road courses are generally a wild-card,” he said, though JRM has had its share of success on the non-ovals. “The only way to get good at them is to run a lot of laps there, and our first laps are going to be in the race. You can win at Road America on pit strategy. We have double races at Dover, and generally if you wreck at Dover, it’s done, and then we get to go back to Darlington.”

Add to that speculation that an additional superspeedway race will be added to the schedule (read Talladega), and you understand why this week off could be crucial in the stretch run.

Moyer said that JRM is “doing exceptionally well as a group, and I’ve been proud of the speed of our cars straight off the truck. Being an engineer and trying to predict splitter travel with no practice and, at most of the tracks we’re going to, new tires...you think you know the pace but you don’t. We’re running at different times of the year than normal and the track temperature, PJ1 or not...it all has a big effect.

“I’ve been proud of all of my guys and how they’ve been able to hit that stuff off the truck. We haven’t really had to make big swings in races, which allows us to keep moving forward throughout the day. We haven’t been able to capitalize and bring home a win. You can’t give enough credit to the shop guys for the turnarounds they’re doing. We haven’t been easy on equipment and we can’t get stuff fixed as fast despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We have had cars, good cars, to run every weekend. It’s a big testament to the people who work here.”

For this week, they’ll take a collective breath and return next week, ready for road courses, new challenges and a long, long way to go to another championship.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • August 15 03:00 PM ET
    UNOH 188 Daytona Road Course
  • August 22 04:00 PM ET
    Drydene 200Dover International Speedway
  • August 23 12:30 PM ET
    Drydene 200Dover International Speedway
  • August 28 07:30 PM ET
    Wawa 250Daytona International Speedway
  • September 5 04:00 PM ET
    Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200Darlington Raceway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Henry 180

Road America | 8/8/2020
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Austin Cindric7710
2Chase Briscoe760-11
3Ross Chastain708-63
4Noah Gragson697-74
5Justin Haley636-135
6Harrison Burton #608-163
7Justin Allgaier598-173
8Michael Annett543-228