DARLINGTON, S.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. has more than the Sprint Cup series on his mind these days — like trying to win a Nationwide title as an owner of JR Motorsports with drivers Chase Elliott and Regan Smith.
Elliott passed Nationwide teammate Kevin Harvick late in the race to win at Texas Motor Speedway last week. It left the 18-year-old Elliott and Smith 1-2 in the drivers’ point standings.
“As a company, we’re doing what we anticipated we were capable of doing,” said Smith, part of Nationwide series practice Thursday at Darlington Raceway. “I don’t know, it’s not surprising us.”
Smith led in points for 10 weeks last season before eventually falling to third behind champion Austin Dillon.
Earnhardt, a NASCAR fan favorite, owns JR Motorsports along with sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Rick Hendrick, who Dale Jr. drives for on the Sprint Cup circuit. He said the Nationwide team has steadily grown the past few seasons and believes they’ve learned how to compete strongly each week. The next race comes Friday night at Darlington.
“We want to win a championship so bad this year,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We feel like we learned a lot last year going through the process with Regan and now we have two teams really capable of getting the job done.”
That’s happened so far this season.
Smith got the ball rolling with a win at Daytona and has finished in the top 10 the past five races.
Elliott, the son of NASCAR great Bill Elliott, won his first career Nationwide race last week as JR Motorsports placed four cars in the top 10. Along with Elliott’s win, Harvick’s fourth and Smith’s 10th, owner Dale Jr. finished fifth in one of his few appearances on NASCAR’s Triple-A circuit.
Earnhardt Miller thinks those results prove that JR Motorsports has made the right calls on personnel, from drivers to crew chiefs and staff.