There are certain teams that look to be here for the long haul by how they are structured.
Then there are teams that you know will fail.
Lastly, there are teams that growing for the future—and one of those is JR Motorsports.
JR Motorsports was started in 2005 as an operation to originally deal with the marketing of Dale Earnhardt Jr., however has quickly grown to a well known Nationwide Series team.
Earnhardt has made it clear that they’re in it to develop the next superstar, stating after letting Kelly Bires go that he was on the search for the next star to hire. Though his involvement in driver development goes back to 2004.
In 2002, Chance 2 was formed as a partnership between Earnhardt and his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt. A couple Nationwide races were run in 2002 and 2003, but it was 2004 that the team took off.
Upon the recommendation by Richie Gilmore, head engine builder at Dale Earnhardt Incorperated at the time, they hired Busch North East (now known as the K&N Pro East Series) Martin Truex Jr. to drive the car full-time for 2004 and 2005. Racing under his own family team in the East Series, Truex had won three races and showed a special poise that caught Gilmore’s eye.
Truex made his debut for Chance 2 in 2003 at Richmond. The debut showed a preview of what was to come as he qualified sixth and led 11 laps before a transmission problem put him out of the race.
The following two years, Truex won back-to-back championships with a total of 12 wins, 32 top fives and 48 top 10s in 69 races. With this success, Truex entered the Cup scene in 2006.
Truex has since seen success in the Cup Series, including a win at Dover in 2007 and qualified for the Chase in 2008. Now driving the No. 56 NAPA Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, he looks to win another race and possibly contend for a championship.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt headed down his own path as he started up JR Motorsports, hoping to have the right eye for talent.
The first driver chosen was Mark McFarland, who’d been a winning driver in the USAR Pro Cup Series. It didn’t work out as in 19 races, there was only one top-10 finish.
He then pegged Shane Huffman, who’d also been a winning driver in the same series. However, it turned out to have the same dismal results as in 28 races, there was only two top fives and six top 10s.
Things took a turn for the better after that as a deal with his Cup car owner Rick Hendrick and a new driver on board at the team turned the ship around.
At the end of 2007, it was announced that Hendrick and Earnhardt would combine Nationwide efforts and field the cars out of JR Motorsports with Hendrick motors and chassis. The result was success for both as the following seasons have produced multiple wins.
Though to produce multiple wins, it was the hiring of a talented driver mid-2007 that’d turn things around.
Brad Keselowski worked his way up the local ranks and had been running some Truck and Nationwide races here and there.
Everything changed when Ted Musgrave was suspended for a race as he was pegged to drive the truck. The result was him getting a good top-five finish and a true chance for him to show his talent to the world.
As a result of his top-five completion, Earnhardt hired him to finish out the last 14 races of the 2007 Nationwide Series schedule which produced five top 10 finishes.
The 2008 season was a big year for JR Motorsports as that’s when things took off.
The first win finally came for the team at Las Vegas on March 1, 2008 via Mark Martin.
Keselowski also had stellar results as he posted victories at Nashville and Bristol and in his 35 starts, he got 11 top fives and 20 top 10s to finish third in the season standings.
Also through the connection with Hendrick, the team gained Landon Cassill to their roster of drivers, who has competed at over 16 different tracks in the U.S., gaining over 100 feature wins. Cassill ran 16 races which resulted in five top 10s and the rookie of the year award.
In 2009, Keselowski ran another full season, gaining four wins, 22 top fives and 28 top 10s to finish third in points once again. He also ran some Cup races for Phoenix Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, which resulted in a win for Phoenix Racing at Talladega in a thrilling finish with Carl Edwards.
Keselowski plans to run the full season in Nationwide and Cup for Penske Racing in 2010, poised to win his first Nationwide title and contend for wins in both.
Meanwhile, JR Motorsports looked to find their next talented driver.
They started the year with Kelly Bires, whose had some Nationwide success including a fifth place finish at Nashville. Though the chemistry didn’t feel right to crew chief Tony Eury and after only one top 10 in five races, Bires was let go.
Their next choice was Steve Arpin, who currently leads the ARCA Series points after two wins in a row upon the recommendation of Mark Martin and Edwards.
Martin was quoted saying that he’d put Arpin up against anybody on dirt. There’s truth to those words as there were tracks that were putting up money if somebody could come and beat Arpin. So far there hasn’t been much to talk about with regards to finishes; however he did qualify fourth at Talladega.
Landon Cassill has showed stayed in the mix as Earnhardt has promised him some races this year.
However, probably the biggest announcement of 2010 was made when JR Motorsports added IZOD IndyCar star Danica Patrick to the mix. So far there hasn’t been much success on the track, but signs of improvement have been seen.
JR Motorsports continues to look for talent as their plans for the year include running Canadian standout driver J.R. Fitzpatrick in the three road course races. Fitzpatrick has experienced success in Canada as he won both the CASCAR and Canadian Tire Series Championship, plus multiple features at the local tracks.
So if you’re looking for a Nationwide team to watch that could blossom into a Cup team down the road, then look no further than JR Motorsports as they’ve got what it takes. Earnhardt has ruled out the team becoming a Cup organization for now, but that doesn’t stop it from happening down the road.