Dale Earnhardt Jr. confirmed on Sunday that the addition of a Cup program at JR Motorsports is no longer out of the question.
With the advent of the NextGen car, Earnhardt said he and JRM co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller have discussed what the obstacles would be associated with an expansion—acquiring a charter and sponsorship chief among them.
But given the proposed savings associated with the introduction of the new NASCAR Cup car in 2022, Earnhardt believes the timing would be advantageous.
“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.”
NASCAR created a 36-charter system for the Cup Series in 2016. The program provides security for teams and sponsors with guaranteed starting positions in each race. Currently, all charters are owned or leased.
“We’re not deep into conversation about it,” Earnhardt added. “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 turn over 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.”
JRM currently fields four cars in the Xfinity Series with Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson competing full-time. The No. 8 Chevrolet features a rotation of drivers, including Sunday’s winner Josh Berry.
Following Berry’s first win in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, Earnhardt was overcome with emotion. Berry, a late model champion, has been a pet project for Earnhardt. The team owner initially hired the 30-year-old racer, then enabled Berry to oversee JRM’s Late Model program.
Given Berry’s talent and dedication, is the driver someone Earnhardt feels he could build the Cup 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.”