JRM hopes hot start lasts all season long
April 29, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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As Dale Earnhardt Jr. stood on Richmond International Raceway pit road late Friday night watching one of his JR Motorsports (JRM) drivers, veteran Kevin Harvick essentially schooling the Nationwide Series field, and another JRM driver 18-year old Chase Elliott make himself Harvick’s best competition, it occurred to Earnhardt that life at the track is pretty doggone good these days.
Harvick and the rookie Elliott went on to score the team its first ever 1-2 race finish. JRM is also 1-2 in the championship standings -- two-time winner Elliott by 19-points over teammate Regan Smith, who also has a win and eight top-10 finishes in eight races.
Four JRM victories in eight races is the kind of A-game not only earning headlines and respect, but deservedly turning heads in the garage.
Off the pit box and behind the wheel, Earnhardt is in the midst of one of his best driving seasons in a decade as well. After winning an emotional Daytona 500 to start the Sprint Cup Series season, Earnhardt has three more runner-up finishes and a third place in nine races. And with the exception of a single lapse in judgment at Texas Motor Speedway resulting in a crash, has looked good enough to contend every week.
"I’m not used to having things this good on the ownership side and I’m not used to being in the hunt for winning races week in and week out," a smiling Earnhardt said Friday night after the race. "I was standing there tonight as we were leading about half way through the race thinking that I probably wasn’t appreciating exactly all we were accomplishing and how well the company is doing because it’s just so overwhelming.
"I won't really realize what we’ve been able to do in the last 10 years or how far we’ve come until maybe years down the road when I truly realize and appreciate. It’s really astonishing and I feel lucky and blessed to get to work with such great people."
The feeling was obviously mutual for the men he sat alongside in the winner’s press conference.
Harvick joked and pointed over his shoulder at Earnhardt.
"It’s still kind of strange to be sitting up here with him and in Victory Lane," Harvick said. "You want things to come together, but I don’t think anyone knew they’d come together like they have and it’s just been a lot of fun."
"Our cars are running fast, the team’s communicating well and doing what they need to be better every week... it’s been a lot of fun. And racing with Chase. … whether he knows it or not, he’s pushing all of us to be better too, so it’s just a lot of fun to see this whole thing come together."
Elliott, son of 1988 Cup champion Bill Elliott, is already proving himself the real deal with exactly the fiery competitive nature that bodes well for what is surely a lengthy future.
After finishing as the runner-up on Friday night in the immediate wake of two consecutive victories, Elliott was tough on himself in way that would be more in line with someone who had just finished 22nd, not second.
And that’s fine with his team.
For JRM’s two full-time NNS drivers, Elliott’s youth, talent and promise, meshes well with Smith’s experience, record and drive. The other part of this successful equation is a third car driven by a revolving door of Cup veterans, such as Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne and Harvick, who can simultaneously make an immediate impact and a lasting impression for the team.
"We’re just blown way by the performance [of the whole team]," said Earnhardt, who shares ownership with his sister Kelley, noted that the contributions Harvick has made extend beyond hoisting a trophy.
"We’re grateful to have Kevin be a part of it and bring [crew chief] Ernie [Cope] in. He’s driven the company in a good direction. Kevin as owner in the past has a lot of good ideas and really influenced our company in a lot of positive ways.
"All the performance is a great reflection on everyone that works there. It’s working good, let’s hope we can keep it going. I think we can get even better and get even stronger."