Dale Earnhardt Jr. has always been quick to put the kibosh on the possibility of JR Motorsports competing in the NASCAR Cup Series one day. But Saturday afternoon, after its driver Josh Berry won the Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway (pictured above), Earnhardt admitted that with the Next Gen Cup car on the horizon, there had been a conversation between him and his sister and team co-owner, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, about the thought of taking their team into NASCAR’s top division.
“With the new car coming, me and my sister have certainly talked a little bit about whether that presents an opportunity for JR Motorsports to go into the Cup Series,” Earnhardt said. “I think the charter system makes it a big challenge for us — that’s a huge financial challenge for anybody trying to get involved in the Cup Series. Josh [Berry] would absolutely be a driver I’d look at if we were going to build a Cup program, 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 us make that happen.
“That’s thinking pretty big all around. But we used to say, ‘Never. Never going into the Cup Series.’ We love where we’re at in the Xfinity Series; it’s a great series to have a lot of fun in. You have days like today in the Xfinity Series, and we’ve got a great business model for that, but the new car forced us to sit down and have a conversation about whether we were missing the opportunity to go into the Cup Series in the future.”
Next Gen is set to debut in the Cup Series next February. It has been in development since late 2019 and was initially set to run this year before the pandemic halted things altogether last spring and then slowed things down to where NASCAR decided to push back its rollout.
JR Motorsports has been a staple in the Xfinity Series. The company has driver championships with Chase Elliott, William Byron, and Tyler Reddick, and Earnhardt has been a team owner far longer, going back to Chance 2 Motorsports when he was still driving for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
According to Earnhardt, in a perfect world, you’d have a car in every run of the racing ladder and into the Cup Series. Berry is one example of Earnhardt and JR Motorsports looking to provide a path for drivers to develop or get their chance at moving through the system, which includes the alliance with GMS Racing and the Drivers Edge development program.
“The racer in me would want to have a car in every series to just be racing, just to be out on the track competing,” Earnhardt said. “But it’s really what comes down to making financial sense.”
The possibility of ever going Cup Series racing would be the same. And Earnhardt clarified that the discussion hadn’t been all that deep but something that needed to happen.
“When the new car comes out, I think you have to ask yourself, is this a moment for us to consider — if we would ever get into Cup — is this a time to look at what we’re doing and see if that makes sense,” said Earnhardt. “So, me and my sister have just had some really short, personal conversations about it that aren’t really developed into anything strong.
“I think it would be irresponsible for us not to at least look at what getting into Cup now with turnaround of the new equipment, new race car, what that means. Because getting into that series is so hard. The money that you’re going to need and require to race there and be competitive more than doubles. We don’t have a partner right now that’s ready to make a commitment like that, so that definitely keeps the conversations pretty short between me and Kelley. But I think you have to stop and ask yourself with this new car coming along (because) it’s irresponsible not to, I think.”