Unless you have lived under a rock this past week, you know about the latest superstar who wants to add his name to the ownership ranks of the NASCAR Cup Series. That’s right, it’s Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After running his JR Motorsports team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for years with little to no interest in moving to Cup, the 26-time Cup Series race winner has been expressing interest in moving his program to the premier division of NASCAR over the last year.
The organization has been extremely successful in the Xfinity Series and in 2022 has dominated the division. Yet, with NASCAR’s new car providing the financial stability team owners have longed for for years, JR Motorsports wants to make the jump soon.
But should it make the jump in 2023?
Luken Glover and Anthony Damcott debate whether or not 2023 is the year for the organization to make the jump.
The Time is Now
JR Motorsports has been a force to be reckoned with in the Xfinity Series ever since its full-time inception in 2006. Now, it is time to take that charisma to the Cup Series.
JRM has collected 64 trophies as an organization, including six of the 16 races this season. In the process, it has won three titles, and may very well seal another in 2022. It knows how to find talent and develop them well for the next level. Just take a look at Chase Elliott, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowski and several others.
2023 is the perfect time to dip their feet in the Cup waters.
Even if it is part-time, there are several benefits. Examining fellow Chevrolet newcomers to the Cup Series in Kaulig Racing and Trackhouse Racing Team, they proved the transition can bear quick fruit. Kaulig earned its first win part-time with AJ Allmendinger at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2021.
Trackhouse already has three wins this season and is a legitimate championship threat with Ross Chastain. With how much parity the Next Gen car has displayed, and likely will for an extended time, one can argue there has been no better time than now.
As far as drivers go, JRM has an advantage that most newcoming teams have: drivers to pick from in their Xfinity stable. Noah Gragson has consistently improved in his career and now sits a title favorite in the NXS.
Additionally, he brings sponsorship dollars and has tested the Cup Series on his own with Kaulig Racing.
Next is Justin Allgaier. Allgaier was never given a fair chance to thrive at the Cup level, and he has absolutely whipped the field several times in his tenure with JRM. He also brings sponsorship with Brandt, but more importantly, he brings valuable experience. The only hesitation with him is likely that he may be an Xfinity lifer, which should hold no shame at all.
That leaves a driver who I believe is the most enticing option.
We don’t know Allgaier’s aspirations to return to Cup to full-time and Gragson could very well sign with another team if the opportunity presents itself. Josh Berry would be a great option for JRM to promote. He recently voiced his desire to go Cup racing at some point and he is raking in results quickly. Berry reminds me of how Cup drivers got their start back in the day: experienced drivers who are in their 30s and have years of stock car notes. Berry is a blue-collar racer who doesn’t come from money.
He is a prime example of the value that grassroots racing can produce. Sponsors take well to him and it seems he improves every time he jumps in the car.
Aside from drivers, there is an opportunity for equipment assistance as well. Earnhardt has close ties with Hendrick Motorsports, with Rick Hendrick being a primary partner in JRM. HMS works in close proximity competition-wise. Three of the HMS drivers made starts with JRM before they went Cup racing. While JRM could not be a fifth or sixth Hendrick car, they have notes and alliance possibilities with one of the most successful organizations in NASCAR.
Team co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that while full-time racing in 2023 is all but out the window, but left the door open for a part-time entry in correlation to a strong desire to take the team Cup racing.
💭 "I don't think we'll be Cup racing full-time for 2023, that's for certain […] right now, our sights are set beyond that." 👀
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) June 28, 2022
If that’s the case, why not try what Kaulig has done with its No. 16 car this season and have a rotation of drivers in it? It is hard to not see Gragson in a full-time ride next year, but between Berry, Allgaier, and maybe even young phenom Sam Mayer, it would be the perfect test to see where they are at.
Obviously, you can’t start a team without money, and the cost of charters and equipment is the biggest concern for JRM. However, the long-term goal of the Next Gen is to reduce costs and the charter market may be more optimal for 2024. The carrot can’t keep getting higher and higher before it’s too high to reach. 2023 is the time for JRM to make their appearance. – Luken Glover
Why Risk Ruining a Good Thing?
While the idea of moving up to the Cup Series sounds like a great plan. JR Motorsports has been around for 17 years, and it seems every year there’s a conversation of whether or not the team will move to the Cup Series.
Hell, we even did a 2HM column like this last year, too, because it was a rumor then. Every year, we hear whispers that they are internally hinting at moving up to Cup, and every year it’s the same story. If Earnhardt really wants to move his team up to the Cup Series, he should have done it 15 years ago when it was a lot cheaper to run race team operations.
So why hasn’t JR Motorsports moved up? Simple. They are a very successful Xfinity program. Several race teams stay in a respective series because the owners know that they would succeed the most in that series. ThorSport Racing, for example, has been a mainstay in the Camping World Truck Series for over two decades. It’s won four championships and won at least one race with one driver every year. Moving up to Xfinity would not guarantee the team that success and would also cost more.
Venturini Motorsports has barely attempted races in NASCAR’s top three series because they have been so successful in the ARCA Menard’s Series for 25 years. Why stop now?
That is the same question I pose for JR Motorsports. The team currently operates a five-car Xfinity program (four full-time), in which all four full-time drivers (with the exception of Sam Mayer) have won in several times in their career with JR Motorsports.
The team has enjoyed three Xfinity Series championships, and it seems all four of its full-time drivers have a legitimate shot at winning the championship in 2022. A move to Cup will not guarantee instant success. Just ask Kaulig Racing or 23XI Racing.
While one could argue that JR Motorsports has nothing left to prove in the Xfinity Series, why would you risk success just to race in a series that costs a TON of money just to run in the upper half of the field?
Speaking of finances, Earnhardt Miller has stated that the charter system is one of the biggest obstacles, and she is right. Charters have not only risen in expenses, but the other obstacle is that the likelihood that someone sells their charter for 2023 or even 2024 is slim to none. So the team is kind of at an impasse in regards to a charter, unless it wants to run as an open car, which not only doesn’t pay more, but also doesn’t guarantee them entry into every race. Although Earnhardt Jr. is a household name among NASCAR fans (and could probably still make a run at Most Popular Driver if he were eligible to do so, despite not competing full-time), NASCAR can’t grant that team a charter just to see an Earnhardt team compete full-time in the Cup series.
Not to mention, adding a Cup team would divert resources to that Cup team, which means that at least one of its Xfinity teams could suffer. Kaulig Racing, for example, expanded this year from three full-time Xfinity cars and one part-time Cup car to three full-time Xfinity Series cars in addition to two full-time Cup Series cars. And it seems that every aspect of its program has struggled except for Allmendinger, because now it has to divide their resources among five teams instead of, essentially, three-and-a-half teams.
After 17 years of building a successful Xfinity program, would that side of the team suffer just to focus on the Cup endeavor? If the team starts struggling on the Xfinity side, sponsors that could potentially jump ship to its Cup team will pull out due to poor performance. And then the next problem for the team, in both Xfinity and Cup, will be finding a sponsor.
So why ruin a good thing by doing something that doesn’t guarantee to be a good thing? These are all things JR Motorsports needs to think about in detail before making any kind of jump to the Cup Series. –Anthony Damcott
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