Jordan Anderson Racing's revival is a story of perseverance

Danny Hansen/NKP

STATESVILLE, N.C. — When rain washed out Xfinity qualifying on a February day at Daytona in 2021, Jordan Anderson nearly saw his dream come to an end.

“I thought it was the end of the road, to be honest with you,” Anderson told NBC Sports.

It proved only the beginning of a journey that has led Anderson's team to the Xfinity playoffs this season for the first time. Jeb Burton will drive the team's No. 27 car in the Xfinity playoff opener Friday at Bristol.

Daytona 2021 seemed bleak just hours after one of Anderson's career highlights. On Friday night, he finished second in the Truck Series race for the second consecutive year. On Saturday, he saw his chance to qualify for his team's first Xfinity race get washed away.

“I was on cloud nine," Anderson said. "And then, literally, they call qualifying and then five minutes later the sun comes out. I was on cloud nine and then into the ground.”

Only one of the first 10 races had qualifying in 2021 as NASCAR returned from COVID restrictions. This meant that the starting order each week was based on NASCAR’s formula. It used the performance in the previous race and the owner points.

Jordan Anderson Racing was a new team with no owner points and no previous Xfinity starts to rely on, so it missed those first 10 races. A team that had shown significant speed during practice at Daytona was nearly done in by weather.

Anderson could have responded by shutting down his team. He and everyone at the shop chose to fight for a better future. They shifted their approach to focus on the Truck Series races for which they could qualify while they continued to prep Xfinity cars for the next race weekend with qualifying — Circuit of the Americas in May.

Missing the first 10 races of the Xfinity Series season proved to be a blessing in disguise. While Anderson didn't get to run his first full season in a national NASCAR series, he had nearly three months to ensure that his organization brought the best possible cars to the track.

“I feel like life has a way of there’s always a silver lining,” Anderson said after Jeb Burton’s win at Talladega this season. “Like, I tell my guys all the time that we’ve just got to embrace the journey. They said, ‘What does embracing the journey mean?’ This is the way I look at life — nothing bad ever happens. You can learn from it and become a better person.”

The mantra of "embrace the journey" is reflected by the decorations at the Jordan Anderson Racing office. There are numerous photos hanging on the walls — nothing out of the ordinary for a NASCAR team — but some are from losses.

One photo shows the entire organization celebrating a win at Talladega. Another shows Ty Dillon leading laps at Las Vegas in 2021, a race he finished eighth. A third photo shows Myatt Snider en route to a second-place finish at Portland International Raceway last season.

The most telling photo is from Daytona in 2020. There is a shot showing Anderson crossing the finish line next to Grant Enfinger. This is a race that Anderson lost by inches, but he chose to immortalize the moment on the walls of the office.

"You work your whole life to, hopefully, earn respect in the sport and make a name for yourself," Anderson said. "For me, I always thought that was going to be the driving side. I just didn't realize that the driving side was preparing me for the owner role."

This owner side took control in 2021 as the Xfinity teams prepared for Circuit of the Americas. Anderson chose to step aside. The driver side of him felt that he could use races at COTA and Charlotte Motor Speedway to qualify well and score points. The owner side of him said that he needed to find someone who could maximize equipment and help the team get back into the starting lineup each week.

Former NASCAR team owner Robby Benton connected Anderson with two-time Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick, who qualified for both races and posted top-10 finishes. Josh Berry took over the car the following week at Mid-Ohio and put the No. 31 in a good enough points position to secure a spot in the remaining races.

“I think that's been the coolest thing is balancing the emotions of not racing every week,” Anderson said. “And — I won't say losing that part of me — but that was something that I kind of let define who I was as a person, as a driver.

“But now being an owner and taking on a new role and getting a fulfillment a different way has been the most rewarding.”

Reddick ultimately made three starts for Anderson that season. Berry made five. Anderson, Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, Kaz Grala and Sage Karam all spent time in the No. 31. This group combined for six top-10 finishes and two top fives in 23 starts.

While there was success on the track, the organization still faced hurdles entering the 2022 season, the first since 2019 with qualifying each week. The days of traveling to races with a gooseneck trailer and buying scuffed tires for each race had taken a toll on Jordan Anderson Racing’s reputation.

Two major moves helped change the situation. John Bommarito invested heavily in the team and became a partner. This provided crucial funds and gave Anderson someone to collaborate with as he continued to look at ways to build the team.

The second move was bringing in Snider as the sole full-time driver. Snider spent two seasons with Richard Childress Racing and reached the playoffs in 2021 after winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Snider joined Jordan Anderson Racing and brought both crucial funding with TaxSlayer and the ability to battle through adversity with a positive attitude.

Snider did not reach the playoffs or Victory Lane with Jordan Anderson Racing. His best finish was second at Portland. The video highlight that stands out from that season was a crash on the final lap at Daytona in which the No. 31 flew through the air and hit the catchfence next to Michael Jordan's bus.

According to Anderson, Snider's impact was far greater than what the stat sheets or videos show. He helped build the culture in the shop that exists today.

“Myatt will forever be ingrained in the DNA of this team in a really good way because he came in and was the stability that I think we needed,” Anderson said. “That was the first year that Shane Whitbeck — who is now Jeb’s crew chief — came in. That was his first year as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series.

“He had a lot to learn. Myatt came, and Myatt was really good with keeping good notes. And he and Shane worked together really well and connected on a really good personal level. And just overall, the stability helped us build a really good notebook.”

Anderson was unable to keep Snider in the building for the 2023 season. Funding kept this from taking place. Anderson ultimately turned to Jeb Burton, who had reached the Xfinity playoffs in 2021. That solidified one spot as the organization expanded to two full-time entries.

There were seven or eight options to take over the No. 31, the team’s primary car, but none worked out. It wasn't until after the season finale that the best option surfaced.

Anderson learned on a Monday in December that Parker Retzlaff, a driver with only 10 national series starts, was a potential option, The deal was done before the end of the week. Anderson had his second driver, and Retzlaff had a full-time ride for the first time in his career.

“It was just kind of surreal when (the deal) was finally done,” Retzlaff told NBC Sports.

These two drivers represented different sides of the Xfinity landscape. Burton was a veteran with more than 100 starts, one win and an appearance in the playoffs. Retzlaff had limited experience but had delivered consistent top-20 finishes while relying on skills honed in virtual races.

This season, the first as a two-car team, has been significant for Anderson. He watched Retzlaff deliver top-10 finishes at both Daytona races and at Talladega. He celebrated his first win as a team owner at Talladega.

"I think it's a really cool story," Berry said of Jordan Anderson Racing's rise. "They earned the right to be in the playoffs by winning a race, right? I mean, it was by no means any sort of fluke or luck involved in it. I mean, they won and earned the right, so I know that's a big deal for them. I'm thankful for the opportunities I got there a couple of years ago."

More importantly, Anderson watched both of his drivers grow in their own ways. He gave Burton insight into the financial side of running the team, which helped the veteran driver avoid “minor” incidents on the track that could ultimately cost more than $30,000 to fix. Anderson has been able to reinvest that money in his equipment and personnel.

Retzlaff has grown on the personal side. He has focused on better approaching adversity, so that he is not caught screaming on the radio or needlessly damaging equipment.

The results are easy to see. Burton has no DNFs this season and an average finish of 14.4. Retzlaff has three DNFs, one of which was a mechanical issue, and an average finish of 18.3.

"We're getting there," Burton said ahead of the playoffs. "We just don't have a full technical alliance with one of these big powerhouse teams, and that's what we're racing against. So it's really old-school racer mentality, just hard-working racers working on the cars trying to make them the best we can."

The consistency on the track and the focus on keeping cars clean is a point of pride for Anderson.

“To see these guys take advantage of those opportunities and run good, it's like a different feeling," he said. "I don't have kids yet, but I imagine that's what it's like when you have kids and you see your kids do good."

Two years removed from nearly shutting down, Jordan Anderson Racing has expanded exponentially. The organization owns one shop where it builds chassis, preps cars for race weekends and runs simulations. It rents another building to store equipment while construction takes place on an expansion.

Anderson and Bommarito went from “trying to play ‘Moneyball’ in racing” to building a solid foundation, one that attracts and keeps quality people. There are now 28 employees with salaries and benefits.

Gone are the days when Anderson drove a dually pickup to the track with a gooseneck trailer in tow. Now his teams show up with haulers.

“Those things mean a lot for me to be able to offer those,” Anderson said. “But then it also allows the people to make a home here, that people stay here for several years.”

Anderson has battled through significant adversity created by rain and has risen like the Phoenix. But what is next?

Anderson has no plans of expanding to three cars any time soon. That could happen in the future, as could a part-time move to the Cup Series. For now, he remains focused on reinvesting in the company, becoming increasingly self-sufficient with new equipment and fielding competitive cars. The work never stops.

“As owner, I'm here every day. There's some days I’m the first one in here, the last one out,” Anderson said. “There's some days where I work until midnight, one o'clock. You just do whatever it takes.

“I've got guys here that are dedicated to see this thing succeed and do well. And you want to, hopefully, keep attracting those guys and be competitive and do the right things and keep seeing this thing grow.”