Next-Gen Has JR Motorsports Interested in NASCAR Cup Expansion

Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

The answer used to be an automatic ‘no’ anytime someone asked Dale Earnhardt Jr. if JR Motorsports had any serious intentions to start a NASCAR Cup Series program.

Approaching the dawn of a new era with the next-generation race car, the answer has shifted somewhere closer to ‘maybe.’

Earnhardt says he has discussed the plausibility of a Cup Series program with his sister and business partner Kelley Earnhardt-Miller. The intended cost-containment initiatives, should they successfully manifest, are certainly attractive to the JR Motorsports co-owners.

"We’re not deep into conversation about it," Earnhardt said on Sunday afternoon after the Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway. "But when the new car comes out, I think you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this a moment we need to consider—if we would ever get into Cup—is this the time to look at what we’re doing and see if that makes sense. Me and my sister have just had some short, personal conversations about it that haven't really developed into anything strong. But I think it would be irresponsible for us not to at least look at what getting into Cup—with the big turnover of equipment, new race car—what that means?

"Getting into that series is so hard. The money that you’re going to need that’s required to race there and be competitive more than doubles. We don’t have a partner right now who is willing to make a commitment like that so that keeps the conversations pretty short between me and Kelley. But I think you have to ask yourself—with this new car coming along, it would be irresponsible not to I think."

The biggest obstacle would be acquiring an ownership charter, which by itself could cost millions of dollars, and that’s before a single dollar is spent on the overhead needed to construct one of the new cars.

The Next-Gen car is a revolutionary platform with its six-speed sequential transmission, independent rear suspension, 18" aluminum wheels and wider, lower-profile tires with a single-lug assembly. It’s essentially a spec car with various single source suppliers -- the primary factor behind its cost-containment values.

JR Motorsports currently operates four Xfinity Series cars and has won three championships. It has 53 wins at the second highest level in NASCAR competition.

Combined with the fact that the team is owned by the children of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt and its entry into the Cup Series has been a popular question over the past decade. It’s a question that has typically been met with a firm ‘no’ until Sunday afternoon.

"With the new car coming in, me and my sister have certainly talked a little bit about whether that presents an opportunity for JR Motorsport to go into the Cup Series," Earnhardt said. "I think the charter makes it a big challenge for us. That’s a huge financial challenge for anybody trying to get involved in the Cup Series."

JRM Motorsports currently fields three full-time cars for contenders (No. 7) Justin Allgaier, (No. 1) Michael Annrettt and (No. 9) Noah Gragson. The No. 8 will be split this season between Josh Berry, Miguel Paludo, Sam Mayer and Earnhardt himself.

Berry claimed his first win on Sunday afternoon after a decade spent behind the wheel of the JR Motorsports Late Model Stock, where he has claimed numerous championships and race victories, including a flag-to-flag triumph in the Martinsville 300 -- the most prestigious event in that discipline.

Perhaps Berry could someday complete the dream and be the driver Earnhardt builds a Cup Series program around.

"Josh would absolutely be a driver that I would look at if we were going to build a Cup program," Earnhardt said. "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 make that happen.

"But that’s thinking pretty big all around. We used to say, 'we were never going into the Cup Series. Never!' We love where we’re at in the Xfinity Series. It’s a great series to have a lot of fun in when you have days like today in the Xfinity Series -- and we have a great model for that.

"But the new car forced us to sit down and have a conversation about whether we were missing an opportunity to go to the Cup Series in the future."