The Magical Month that Made JR Motorsports Boom

Ron Lemasters | 4/1/2021

Darlington Raceway Kelley Earnhardt Miller NASCAR Xfinity News Richmond Raceway Texas Motor Speedway

As the 2021 calendar turns to April, we take a look back at April 2014. That month, JRM won three consecutive races, propelling the organization to new heights. Since then, JRM has won 40 races and three NXS titles.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (April 2, 2021) – Racing is, at its heart, a numbers game.

There’s lap times, qualifying speeds, number of laps led...the list is endless. The most important numbers, obviously, are victories and championships. For JR Motorsports, the numbers have been very good of late, with three NASCAR Xfinity Series championships and 40 victories in the past seven full seasons plus six races in 2021.

Prior to that, the numbers were solid, but not spectacular. In its first 489 starts as a full-fledged NXS team, JRM logged 12 victories and zero championships.

What was the turning point?

It was a three-race span in April of 2014.

There were other factors at play as well. In 2011, NASCAR ruled that drivers could compete for a championship in just one of the three national series. Five years later, in 2016, Cup drivers with at least five years’ experience were limited to a maximum of 10 NXS races and could not compete in the Championship 4, the Playoffs or the Dash 4 Cash races. In 2019, that total was cut to seven with the same stipulation on the postseason and special-event races, and last year it was further reduced to just five.

The revised competition rules meant that JRM would still compete against Cup teams, but on a more even footing. It also led to JRM fielding four full-time teams in 2017, in a quest for a series championship.

The first race of that pivotal period in 2014 took place on April 4 at Texas Motor Speedway, and it was an auspicious race even before it started. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on the 1.5-mile quad-oval was the first in which JRM would roll out four team cars, and it was a stacked lineup to be sure. Not only was team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the race, driving his familiar No. 88 with Ragu sponsorship, so was Kevin Harvick, driving the No. 5 Chevrolet. Regan Smith was in the No. 7 Chevrolet and rookie Chase Elliott had NAPA Auto Parts on his No. 9 machine. Harvick started from the pole, with Smith third, Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Elliott sixth in the lineup.

At the end of the night, Elliott celebrated his first series triumph in Victory Lane, having led 38 laps. Harvick led 101 laps and finished fourth, with Earnhardt Jr. fifth after leading 15 circuits. Smith completed the scoring with a seventh-place result.

With everything being bigger in Texas, JR Motorsports had made a big, big splash on a major stage, and the momentum the stellar team performance generated would be the something really, really huge.

The following weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, the then-18-year-old Georgia native started second and led 52 laps on the way to a second straight victory, this one coming at one of NASCAR’s most revered speedways.

Two races, two victories.

After an off-week, the teams reported to Richmond (Va.) Raceway for the annual spring meeting on Strawberry Hill. Elliott qualified fourth, Smith sixth and Harvick ninth, and when it was over, Harvick celebrated in Victory Lane with Elliott second and Smith eighth at the checkered.

Three races, three victories and a team average finish of 4.4.

“In 2014, our internal focus was in continuing Chase’s development as a driver, helping to prepare for his move up to Hendrick Motorsports,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports. “The excitement and execution of the opportunity that Chase represented was a big part of building JR Motorsports into the team that it is today. Ryan Pemberton coming on as our director of competition sort of set the stage for what happened in 2014.”

The combination of those two programs were the foundation of what was to come.

“The 2014 season saw us have full-time drivers in Chase and Regan,” Earnhardt Miller said. “We went to full-time cars to run for the series title and still had the All Star car. That boosted JR Motorsports from a credibility standpoint, as did having drivers like William Byron and Alex Bowman here later. That helped us a lot.”

Those three victories, coming early in the 2014 season, set the stage for Elliott’s series title and paved the way for his eventual graduation to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2016. It also set JRM up as a championship-winning organization.

Elliott would win once more that season, at Chicagoland Speedway, while Harvick added three more wins (at Kentucky, Atlanta and in the second Chicago event). Smith had won the season opener at Daytona and Kasey Kahne would give JRM a sweep there in the summer event to bring the season total to nine.

Those nine victories currently represent the best single season in the team’s history, and it touched off quite the extended run for JRM.

The following season in 2015, the team won five times (Smith and Harvick twice each, with Elliott taking Chevrolet’s 400th NXS triumph at Richmond in the fall). Elliott was second in points and Smith wound up fourth in the final standings. In 2016, Elliott Sadler earned the only three victories of his JRM tenure, Earnhardt Jr. added his first win in one of his own cars and Elliott won the season opener at Daytona.

In 2017, William Byron won four times on the way to a championship, while Justin Allgaier notched his first two triumphs for the team. Heading into the championship event, JRM had three of the four entries into the Championship 4, with Byron, Allgaier and Sadler.

In 2018, Allgaier would explode for five more triumphs, giving him the team lead among drivers, while Tyler Reddick won the opener at Daytona and the finale at Homestead-Miami to post JRM’s third and most recent championship.

In 2019, Michael Annett broke into the win column at Daytona and Allgaier took the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix to earn a shot at the championship the following week at Homestead-Miami.

The COVID-abbreviated 2020 season saw Allgaier win three times and Noah Gragson twice, with Allgaier making his fourth Championship 4 appearance in five seasons.

Byron’s title in 2017 was a direct result of that three-race stretch in 2014, and Reddick’s 2018 crown took it one step farther. Near-misses in the following seasons still carry the imprint of those three races in April.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • April 24 04:00 PM ET
    Ag-Pro 300Talladega Superspeedway
  • May 8 01:00 PM ET
    Steakhouse Elite 200Darlington Raceway
  • May 15 01:30 PM ET
    Dover International Speedway
  • May 22 04:00 PM ET
    Pit Boss 250Circuit of the Americas
  • May 29 01:00 PM ET
    Alsco Uniforms 300 at CharlotteCharlotte Motor Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Cook Out 250

Martinsville Speedway | 4/9/2021
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Austin Cindric3170
2Daniel Hemric275-42
3Harrison Burton242-75
4Justin Haley230-87
5Jeb Burton221-96
6AJ Allmendinger218-99
7Myatt Snider206-111
8Justin Allgaier199-118
11Noah Gragson168-149
12Michael Annett168-149