CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Just four years ago, JR Motorsports shuffled 10 different drivers through its No. 88 Chevrolet. The organization won just one Nationwide Series race and followed that with a winless 2011 season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew something had to change with his team.
The overhaul began in 2012, mostly behind the scenes. There were hirings and firings – Earnhardt had to let go both his uncle and his cousin – and JRM finally began to utilize its resources at Hendrick Motorsports. Tough decisions were made, but the result is that JRM is now a Nationwide Series powerhouse.
JR Motorsports heads into Saturday’s race at New Hampshire coming off back-to-back wins, Kevin Harvick at Kentucky and Kasey Kahne at Daytona. JRM has an organization-best six wins this season, and Regan Smith’s second-place finish last week to Kahne moved him back into the Nationwide Series points lead. Chase Elliott is third in the standings.
The difference, Earnhardt said, is Hendrick Motorsports.
“The line of communication to HMS is so important, and we just let that deteriorate over the years to where there was no back and forth and no interest,” Earnhardt said. “We weren’t an asset to them, we weren’t doing anything to help them, we couldn’t communicate back and forth. The people we’ve got now really have that line of communication pulling back and forth to where we obviously get a ton from it.”
Earnhardt credits JRM additions Ryan Pemberton and Greg Ives. Pemberton went to JRM in late 2012 as competition director, and Ives, race engineer at Hendrick for five of Jimmie Johnson’s championships, joined in 2013 as crew chief for Smith. The result was two wins for Smith, who finished third in the final standings.
This season, Pemberton is still competition director and also Smith’s crew chief. Ives is now crew chief for rookie Elliott, who has two wins and is 15 points out of the lead.
“The best part about it, I guess, is people,” Earnhardt said. “We’re grooming guys that HMS has high interest in, that they are recruiting through their ranks. It’s a system that is really profitable for both companies, just moving people around and getting people experience in the right spots, without having them leave.”
Earnhardt often gets all the glory for a team that is also owned by his sister, Kelley, and Rick Hendrick. He doesn’t want his sister overlooked for her role in rebuilding the organization, which had nine total wins before Pemberton came aboard and has nine victories since.
“She really is the one pulling the levers and steering the ship and making the major decisions that really affect the company as a whole,” he said. “She doesn’t talk about nuts and bolts, but she’s definitely involved in personnel, personalities, who would work well where, what people’s responsibilities should be.”
GILLILANDS at IRWINDALE: Three generations of Gillilands will race against each other at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway on July 19.
Butch Gilliland, former NASCAR K&N West Series champion, will dust off his old racing uniform to take on his son and grandson in the 75-lap Super Late Model Series race.
David Gilliland, driver for Front Row Motorsports in the Sprint Cup Series, earned his first asphalt win at Irwindale and developed his racing skills at the track. Fourteen-year-old Todd Gilliland is in his first full season of stock-car racing, and picked up his first win in May at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, North Carolina.
The idea to have the three Gillilands compete against each other came when the Irwindale half-mile oval re-opened last year after being shuttered in 2012.
“When Irwindale shut down, I was bummed that Todd would never be able to race there,” said David. “I think Irwindale Speedway was a key part of my learning to race and, to me, it’s one of the nicest if not the nicest racetrack I’ve ever raced on. Now that it’s reopened, I was trying to do everything I could to get him to race there.”
The race falls on the last off weekend of the season for the Sprint Cup Series.
VICTORY JUNCTION: Victory Junction will celebrate its 10th year and hosting more than 20,000 campers this weekend with Sprint Cup Series teams at New Hampshire.
Victory Junction will distribute 10-year decals to the teams for Sunday’s race. The camp was the dream of the late Adam Petty, grandson of Richard Petty and son of Victory Junction founder Kyle Petty.
Adam was killed in an accident at New Hampshire in 2000.
ELECTRIC DRIVE: Environmental activist Leilani Munter will bring attention to renewable energy by leaving Sunday from Charlotte, North Carolina, and driving her electric car to Chicagoland Speedway for next week’s ARCA race.
Munter, who has raced at Daytona and Talladega this season, will make her first stop in the Tesla Model S in Washington. She and others from The Solutions Project plan to meet Monday with policy makers to discuss renewable energy. Munter also will host meetings in Bethesda, Maryland, and Chicago, and wants fans to join her at each Tesla Supercharger stop.
“Getting off oil by driving electric cars and using solar to power the electric grid helps America reduce our dependence on foreign oil and secure our energy independence,” she said. “That’s a win-win for the environment and national security.”