Within the modern era of stock car racing, it takes plenty of money to be successful. Having “Earnhardt” as one’s last name should help that – at least you would think.
However, that isn’t always the case.
Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt and son of Kerry Earnhardt, has been trying to make a name for himself over the past few years, despite the fame – or at least recognition – that comes with the family name. Despite that, finding sponsorship has been virtually impossible for him, but courtesy of a few good breaks, life has made one giant left turn in his favor.
In 2013, he began to find a few mediocre opportunities. Racing for what was then known as Go Green Racing, Earnhardt ran 16 NASCAR Nationwide Series events. In the midst of his schedule, his best result was a 16th-place finish for the GGR team at Talladega. However, a combination of little funding and a driver with limited experience hindered their success.
While there were some high points last year for the No. 79 team when Earnhardt was behind the wheel, they were seldom. A minor “victory” for the team was finishing inside of the top 25. He did that a mere nine times, finishing on the lead lap just twice.
But after two months, an opportunity came knocking for a man that couldn’t settle as a mediocre racer with a last name of Earnhardt.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his uncle and a Nationwide Series team owner, hired his nephew to run one race. That one event took place at Richmond International Raceway – a track to which he had never been. But he took advantage of the opportunity and finished inside of the top 20. The result might not have been fantastic, yet he showed potential that couldn’t be seen while running in the shadows of a team that put back-of-the-pack drivers in the car when they couldn’t find funding to run Earnhardt.
That potential helped him get a job for 2014.
JD Motorsports, a relatively small multi-car team, hired Earnhardt to be a teammate to Landon Cassill this year. But don’t think that means it’s been all daisies and rainbows. The No. 01 Chevrolet driven by Cassill has performed far better than the No. 4, which Earnhardt drives. He has 19 top-20 results through 28 races compared to Earnhardt’s lackluster six.
But this little team runs two full-time cars with a budget that is a fraction of the teams it competes against. Using engines created by Jeremy Clements‘ Clements Engines, it has been able to beat out teams like Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing on a few occasions. The spot where this team has shown signs of brilliance is when it is edging out RAB Racing, TriStar Motorsports and other teams of that caliber. Cassill has run well since last year as part of a double-duty effort on a weekly basis, but Earnhardt was struggling to keep up with his teammate, despite
However, over the past few races, Earnhardt has shown signs of maturity – and does so while being completely realistic. He doesn’t need to race inside of the top 10 around bigger talents, he could wreck doing so. We have seen plenty of young drivers wreck while racing in a position they shouldn’t be in. There have been two incidents that caused the No. 4 car to not finish races because of wrecks at Road America and more recently at Richmond. Moreover, there have been a lot of issues for this crew that aren’t in his hands. But lately, he’s been finding himself more near the front, a little more on par with his teammate. That’s an important step up, and something that could again help propel him to another level.
If JD Motorsports could acquire some more sponsorship for the 25-year-old, he would be running just as well, if not better than Cassill. Although he might not be like his grandfather or uncle, there is something about this young man that will raise your eyebrows.
His dedicated demeanor is just like his family elders. There are very few drivers in the Nationwide Series garage area that can walk with their heads held high after finishing a race in 20th place. But for Earnhardt, that probably gets him a solid pat on the back and a hand shake from team owner Johnny Davis, who has been extremely supportive of his young driver’s career.
And should be get another shot at a team like JR Motorsports, this young man is going to prove what he is worth. Having the Earnhardt name is going to be great for marketing a product as he continues to get his name out into the NASCAR world. More importantly, his struggles are similar to his grandfather’s, who struggled to find a full-time ride for over four years.
As the season comes to a close, Earnhardt must end on a high note. And after a career-best finish of 12th at Bristol in August, he subsequently tallied up a pair of top 20s at Kentucky and Dover – showing that a little more money can get this young man to the top.