For the first time, car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. might be facing a problem most NASCAR Nationwide Series car owners would love to have – his two cars are battling for the title in the final races of the season. But Earnhardt knows his biggest task will be trying to keep his organization from becoming a house divided, because only one of his drivers can bring home the title.
But which one?
Regan Smith, second in the series standings, has eight races left in the season to catch his teammate Chase Elliott who is a comfortable 19 points ahead in the standings lead. Smith’s consistency (he leads the series in top-10 finishes with 21) has brought him to this point in the season, but out placing Elliott will be crucial in these final eight races if Smith wants the title. Arguably this has been Smith’s career-best season; he has posted an average finish of 8.5 and a season-to-date driver rating of 99.5.
Unfortunately for Smith, Elliott’s stronghold on the point standings has been unrelenting since the series was previously at Chicago back in July. Elliott led 85 laps on his way to his third win of his Sunoco Rookie season. This weekend, Elliott returns looking to go for the season sweep at Chicagoland Speedway in the Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300 Powered by Coca-Cola (Sept. 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2) and he might do it.
Elliott’s rookie season has seen three wins (Texas, Darlington and Chicago), 12 top fives and 19 top 10s in 25 starts. His average finish this season is 8.2 and his season-to-date driver rating is 109.4 – second only to Kyle Busch (127.4) in the series.
“A lot of pride comes from seeing those two guys doing so well in the points,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It’s just hard to watch them have to go to battle over the points lead. You pull for both of them and you’d like to see both of them win it, but there is some other competition out there. By no means is it a two-car race, but there is a lot of pride to see them two cars doing so well in the points. It’s a big honor for us as a company. It gives us a lot of confidence,” Earnhardt said.
If either JR Motorsports driver can bring home the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship this season it will be the first title for the organization in the series. JR Motorsport’s best points position finish prior to this season was third – three times (Brad Keselowski 2008, 2009 and Regan Smith 2013).