Friday 5: Dale Earnhardt Jr. says what he would do ‘in a perfect world’ with his team

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the choice, the co-owner of JR Motorsports would regularly provide a ride in the Xfinity Series for short track stars.

The past two weeks saw JR Motorsports field a car for Bubba Pollard at Richmond and Carson Kvapil at Martinsville.

But this weekend, there won’t a ride for Pollard, Kvapil or anyone else in the No. 88 car for JRM at Texas Motor Speedway. There isn’t the funding to do so.

“In a perfect world,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports after last weekend’s Xfinity race at Martinsville, “I would love to run this car with all kinds of Bubbas and Carsons. I would love to give Carson a full season. I think he’s ready to go. I’d love to run Bubba Pollard full-time.”

But Earnhardt needs financial support to do so.

Pollard got his chance at Richmond when sponsor Rheem asked JRM about putting him in a car for that race.

“We couldn’t run Bubba otherwise,” Earnhardt said.

NASCAR teams take on the second intermediate track of the 2024 season.

Kvapil gained support from Chevrolet when Earnhardt told the manufacturer two years ago about the son of former NASCAR driver Travis Kvapil and asked about getting Carson in the program for its young drivers.

That program has helped the 20-year-old but money still matters.

“His dad works really, really hard … trying to find opportunities and money,” Earnhardt said of Carson Kvapil. “Chevrolet is being more and more supportive and seeing, really, that he is a true talent.

“He’s a really good racecar driver with really good race craft. I kind of said the same thing about Josh (Berry).”

But it took years for Berry to get a full-time Xfinity ride and work his way to a full-time Cup ride this season at age 33. Funding delayed his climb up NASCAR’s ranks.

In 2015, Berry placed seventh at Richmond in his third career series start. Earnhardt, also the car owner for winner Chase Elliott that night, spent nearly as much time talking about Berry after the race as Elliott in hopes of raising sponsorship interest in Berry.

None came.

“I was naive,” Earnhardt said last weekend. “I so badly wanted that for Josh at Richmond. I was kind of selling my soul a little bit in that press conference and a bit naive thinking just maybe somebody would get on this deal and nothing, nothing happened. And so Josh had to go back to the short tracks.”

The Cup Series races Sunday afternoon at the 1.5-mile speedway.

Berry did not run another Xfinity race in 2015. He made three Xfinity starts in 2016 and one in 2017. He would not race again in NASCAR until 2021, running a majority of the Xfinity schedule and winning two races.

JR Motorsports has been a launching pad for drivers to move to the Cup Series. Since 2017 drivers who have competed at JR Motorsports before making their Cup debut include William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Noah Gragson, Zane Smith and Berry. Byron (2017) and Reddick (2018) won Xfinity championships with the team.

Kvapil has won the past two CARS Tour Late Model Stock Car championships, driving for JR Motorsports in the series owned by Earnhardt, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Justin Marks. Among Kvapil’s wins last year was the CARS Tour race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know what happens with Carson,” Earnhardt said. “We’ll do the same thing. We’ll do whatever it takes. He can drive my late model, and I’ll make sure that car is a winning car on the race track every single week for as long as he wants.”

Kvapil finished fourth at Martinsville. Pollard was sixth at Richmond. They both showed they belonged in those races.

Earnhardt said he thought they “might get another race or two” with Kvapil, while any additional races with Pollard is up to Rheem.

“I think they would love to do it,” Earnhardt said of Rheem partnering with Pollard again, “but we’ll have to see what happens. But, man, this is so much fun, especially when it works … especially when they run good like they have.”

2. Youth making an impact in NASCAR

When Ryan Blaney won last year’s Cup title, it marked the third consecutive year the driver winning the Cup championship was under the age of 30 at the time. Blaney was a part of the youngest Championship 4 in Cup, joining Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and William Byron.

Young drivers are making an impact in NASCAR across its major series this season. Consider:

— Connor Zilisch, 17, won the pole for the Craftsman Truck race Circuit of the Americas. Zilisch is signed with Trackhouse Racing.

— Jesse Love, 19, has had four consecutive top 10s entering Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. He is fourth in the points for Richard Childress Racing.

— Sammy Smith, 19, won last year at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series. He is ninth in the points for JR Motorsports this season.

— Taylor Gray, 19, finished third at Richmond in his Xfinity Series debut, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He competes full-time in the Truck Series for TRICON Garage and is fifth in the points.

— Carson Kvapil, 20, finished fourth in his Xfinity Series debut last weekend at Martinsville Speedway for JR Motorsports.

— Sam Mayer, 20, finished second in last weekend’s Xfinity race at Martinsville Speedway. The JR Motorsports driver has four career series wins.

— Chandler Smith, 21, won at Phoenix and Richmond this season for Joe Gibbs Racing and is leading the points.

— Rajah Caruth, 21, won the Las Vegas Truck race last month for Spire Motorsports.

— Corey Heim, 21, won the COTA Truck race and is second in the points for TRICON Garage.

— Ty Gibbs, 21, is seventh in the Cup Series points for Joe Gibbs Racing and one of only three drivers in the series who has finished in the top 20 in every race this year (Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. are the other two).

— Nick Sanchez, 22, won the Daytona Truck race to open this season for Rev Racing.

— Christian Eckes, 23, won the Bristol and Martinsville Truck races for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing and is fourth in the points.

— Tyler Ankrum, 23, has three top-five finishes this season for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing and is third in the Truck points.

3. Streakbreaker

Six times a driver, who had won previously, broke a winless streak that was more than 30 races at Texas.

That could be a good sign for some former Cup champions, who have gone more than a year since their last victory.

Brad Keselowski is winless in his last 106 races. Chase Elliott is winless in his last 42 starts. Joey Logano is winless in the last 39 races.

Those who broke a winless streak of more than 30 races at Texas are:

Elliott Sadler snapped a 108-race winless drought by winning there in April 2004.

Austin Dillon ended an 88-race winless streak with his July 2020 win.

Matt Kenseth halted a 76-race winless streak by winning the April 2011 race.

Greg Biffle broke a 49-race winless streak with his April 2012 victory.

Jeff Gordon ended a 47-race winless drought with his April 2009 win.

Kyle Busch snapped a 33-race winless drought by winning the October 2020 race.

4. Top pit crews

Here is a look at the best pit crews based on average time for a four tire pit stop, according to Racing Insights.

1. Ryan Blaney’s pit crew with an average time of 10.842 seconds.

2. Chase Elliott’s pit crew with an average time of 10.848 seconds.

3. William Byron’s pit crew with an average time of 10.945 seconds.

4. Kyle Larson’s pit crew with an average time of 11.022 seconds.

5. Chase Briscoe’s pit crew with an average time of 11.092 seconds.

5. Tough track on cars

Texas Motor Speedway is a tough challenge for cars. In five of its last six Cup races, there have been at least seven cars that failed to finish.

Ten cars were eliminated due to damage from an accident in last fall’s playoff race. Among those who did not finish that race were Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Ty Gibbs and Kyle Larson, who led 99 laps before his accident.

Seven cars were eliminated by an accident or damage from an accident in the 2022 playoff race. Among those who failed to finish were Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Busch.

Thirteen cars were eliminated from the 2021 playoff race, including 11 due to an accident or damage from an accident. Among those eliminated due to an accident were Truex, Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman.

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