MARTINSVILLE, Va. – For years after the formation of JR Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wouldn’t even entertain the idea of his team advancing into the NASCAR Cup Series one day.
However, fresh off Josh Berry’s win during Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway, Earnhardt admitted a JR Motorsports Cup Series program could be feasible in the future because of the implementation of NASCAR’s new Next Gen formula.
The NBC Sports analyst, NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and JR Motorsports co-owner admitted to reporters following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race that he’s spoken with his sister, JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, about the potential of taking JR Motorsports to the Cup Series with the rollout of Next Gen coming in 2022.
“With the new car coming, me and my sister have certainly talked a little bit about whether that presents an opportunity for JR Motorsports to go into the Cup Series,” Earnhardt said. “I think the charter system makes it a big challenge for us — that’s a huge financial challenge for anybody trying to get involved in the Cup Series. Josh [Berry] would absolutely be a driver I’d look at if we were going to build a Cup program, but I’m just trying to get us into a full-time Xfinity program with Josh. I’m just trying to get him into the Xfinity Series program where he can continue to prove himself, and if the Cup Series is in our future, maybe Josh is the driver that helps us make that happen.
“That’s thinking pretty big all around. But we used to say, ‘Never. Never going into the Cup Series.’ We love where we’re at in the Xfinity Series; it’s a great series to have a lot of fun in. You have days like today in the Xfinity Series, and we’ve got a great business model for that, but the new car forced us to sit down and have a conversation about whether we were missing the opportunity to go into the Cup Series in the future.”
NASCAR’s Next Gen car platform is scheduled to debut next February during the Daytona 500. The platform was pushed back from its originally planned rollout this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated production delays within the industry, as well as necessary cost savings for teams.
JR Motorsports’ roots in the Xfinity Series go back to 2005, and it has won three championships in NASCAR’s second-highest division – in 2014 with Chase Elliott, 2017 with William Byron and 2018 with Tyler Reddick. All three of JR Motorsports’ title-winning drivers now race full time at the Cup Series level.
Earnhardt, who has also owned NASCAR Camping World Truck Series entries in the past and still fields late models through JR Motorsports in addition to its four full-time Xfinity Series cars, tipped that in a perfect world, he’d like to field a car at every rung of the motorsports ladder on the way to the Cup Series.
Money, however, is the obstacle to that ideal.
“The racer in me would want to have a car in every series to just be racing, just to be out on the track competing,” Earnhardt said. “But it’s really what comes down to making financial sense.”
Whether that financial sense ever includes a Cup Series program is yet to be seen, but Earnhardt admitted the preliminary discussion had to take place, at the very least.
Where those talks may or may not lead in the unknown, at least for now.
“When the new car comes out, I think you have to ask yourself, is this a moment for us to consider — if we would ever get into Cup — is this a time to look at what we’re doing and see if that makes sense,” said Earnhardt. “So, me and my sister have just had some really short, personal conversations about it that aren’t really developed into anything strong.
“I think it would be irresponsible for us not to at least look at what getting into Cup now [looks like], with the turnaround of the new equipment, new race car, what that means. Because getting into that series is so hard. The money that you’re going to need and [that’s] required to race there and be competitive more than doubles. We don’t have a partner right now that’s ready to make a commitment like that, so that definitely keeps the conversations pretty short between me and Kelley.
“But I think you have to stop and ask yourself with this new car coming along (because) it’s irresponsible not to, I think.”