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Publication: NASCAR News
As Earnhardt Jr. matures, so does JR Motorsports

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         NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, December 6, 2007

As Earnhardt Jr. matures, so does JR Motorsports
By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM

He didn't tuck in his shirt when he appeared before the 
cameras to announce his impending split with Dale Earnhardt 
Inc. He didn't tuck in his shirt for the news conference 
announcing his new five-year contract with Hendrick Motor-
sports. But when it came time to announce driver and 
sponsor extensions for his own Busch team, there was the 
notoriously scruffy Dale Earnhardt Jr., with a crisp, 
white shirt tucked neatly into a pair of pressed dark 

It's a concession that likely had to do with the presence 
of officials from the U.S. Navy, which is backing the 
No. 88 car of driver Brad Keselowski at JR Motorsports, 
and likes things to be spic-and-span. But it also says 
something of the affinity NASCAR's most popular driver 
has for his burgeoning enterprise on what will become the 
Nationwide Series next year. He may have 17 Nextel Cup 
wins, two Busch titles, a new contract with the sport's 
best team and a legion of passionate fans, but it's easy 
to see the pride he has in JR Motorsports, which started 
in 1999 with one employee. It's his baby, and it's grown 
up with him. 

"I think the things that we have done at JR Motorsports and 
the things that we have went through, our trials, have been 
just as much of a learning experience as anything else as 
a lot of the stuff that has been well publicized in the Cup 
Series withthe changes we made there," said Earnhardt, who 
signed Keselowski to a two-year extension prior to the 
season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "The Busch 
Series can be a lot of work. There is a lot of attention 
and focus that it requires, so we have had our hands 
literally full all year long." 


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JR Motorsports has come a long way since it was a one-man 
operation run out of a shed on DEI's property. Founded as 
a marketing tool to help the then-Busch driver Earnhardt 
sell a few more T-shirts, it became a racing entity in 
2002 when Earnhardt and a few friends built a street stock 
and entered it in 10 races at Concord (N.C.) Motorsports 
Park with driver T.J. Majors behind the wheel. Over the 
next two years the team traveled the country, participat-
ing in bigger Late Model events, before breaking into the 
Hooters Pro Cup series with driver Mark McFarland in 2005. 

Late that same season, JR Motorsports made its Busch debut. 
Earlier this year, the team moved into a new, 66,000-square-
foot shop in Mooresville, N.C. And beginning next year, JR 
Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports will combine opera-
tions for the Nationwide Series, fielding a two-car squad 
based out of Earnhardt's shop. Thirty employees were shifted 
from Hendrick's main campus to JR Motorsports in the move, 
which effectively makes Earnhardt and new Nextel Cup owner 
Rick Hendrick business partners. Earnhardt will own one of 
the two cars -- Keselowski's No. 88 -- and his boss the 

For Earnhardt, playing car owner brings about experiences 
very different from those he encounters in his day job. 
There's the presence of family, like mother Brenda Jackson, 
sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, and uncles Danny Earnhardt 
and Tony Eury Sr., all employees at the JR Motorsports 
shop. There's dealing with sponsors, which occasionally 
forces him to tuck in his shirt. There's the sometimes 
unfortunate duty of firing a driver; earlier this season, 
he cut Shane Huffman loose for wrecking too many racecars. 
And there's also the credibility he feels he receives by 
tackling his own business enterprise, something he can't 
get behind the wheel. 


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"I have learned a lot. There are so many things that you 
tackle, things you enjoy. The relationship with the Navy 
has been really fun. Working one-on-one as the owner 
with a sponsor was new to me. We have really enjoyed the 
relationship. I have learned a lot through the Navy and 
how that actually works and how you have the working 
relationship and compromising," Earnhardt said.  

"With the drivers it has been challenging as well, an 
enjoyable challenge. Brad is a likeable young guy and we 
have a lot of things in common. We get along great. I want 
to see him succeed. That is sort of my motivation is to 
help to achieve whatever he wants to achieve and get to 
where he wants to go. I feel like the credibility I seek 
has been in respect from the community, whether it be my 
sponsors, the drivers and crew members that work for me 
and amongst the garage. It is great when you have guys 
come knocking on your door on Monday wanting to know if 
there are openings or opportunities for them to work in 
our program. That is a compliment for us every time it 
happens. It has been happening quite often." 

Now, in addition to Keselowski, Earnhardt's stable also 
includes a Hooters Pro Cup car, a Late Model team head-
lined by Martin Truex Jr.'s cousin Curtis, and the 
Hendrick Busch entry that could feature Landon Cassill 
and an array of other drivers. Personally, his goal is 
to perform well enough that Keselowski merits a Cup ride 
-- but with a team other than JR Motorsports, which the 
owner has no plans to take to NASCAR's top level. 

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"Our ultimate goal right now is to stay in the Busch Series 
and to work there," Earnhardt said. "I enjoy that series. 
It is part of my history. It is part of me as a driver. 
That is where I hope to stay and enjoy a lot of success 
and be formidable for many years. We have aspirations to 
look further ahead than that. I think it would do an 
injustice not only to our partners such as the Navy, but 
ourselves, if we do not tackle the challenges we are facing 
now. We are still trying to become a successful team in 
the Busch Series. Until we are and have mastered and seem 
to be in control of that, we can then see what other places 
and opportunities we may have to grow. But that is definite-
ly not even in the back of my mind right now." 

Truthfully, he has more pressing interests. In addition 
to getting his team ready for the 2008 Nationwide Series, 
there's also the small matter of preparing for his ride 
in Hendrick's No. 88 Sprint Cup car. Tony Eury Jr., his 
crew chief, has been deep in preparation since October. 
Earnhardt, who hasn't won a race at NASCAR's top level 
since May of 2006, believes the pieces are in place for 
a breakthrough. But it won't be easy. 

"I feel right now that Tony Jr. is very stressed out and 
has a lot on his mind. The last couple of months, since 
going to work there, the information has just been crammed 
into his brain," he said. "He could use a vacation. He 
knew when we signed on that we were going to kind of have 
to up our program a little bit, up our efforts. Jeff 
[Gordon] gave me a little bit of advice at the end of the 
season, that the work ethic might be a little more intense 
than I was accustomed to as a driver. For the crew chief, 
it's probably the same. Tony Jr. talks of 7 o'clock meet-
ings every [morning]. He seems really stressed to me. His 
mentality is positive and focused, like he's going after 
it and attacking it. But you can tell he's in a new 
environment. There's just a little more going on that 
he's got to get in tune with." 

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