Ever since Dale Earnhardt Jr. and several others, including his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller, started JR Motorsports back in 2005, they have worked relentlessly to field a championship-caliber race car.
Sure, the team, which also includes Rick Hendrick as a co-owner, has had its share of bright moments – Brad Keselowski’s back-to-back third-place finishes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings in 2008 and 2009; Danica Patrick’s fourth-place finish in 2011 at Las Vegas, the highest result for a female in any NASCAR national series event.
More recently, Regan Smith’s victory in last year’s series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was another high-water mark. The win came in Smith’s first and only NASCAR Nationwide race last season, providing the driver and team confidence heading into 2013 and giving the team its 10th series victory.
This year, Smith returned to JR Motorsports to drive a full schedule in the No. 5 Chevrolet. He is teamed up with chew chief Greg Ives, a five-time NSCS championship-winning engineer with Jimmie Johnson.
Through the first seven races, the Smith-Ives pairing has paid off. Although the No. 5 team hasn’t visited Victory Lane yet, they’ve put themselves right in the thick of the championship battle. Smith trails points leader Sam Hornish Jr. by a mere point, and is 22 points in front of third-place driver Brian Scott.
It is possible with a strong finish in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway that Smith could overtake Hornish for the points lead. If that does happen, it would be the first time a JR Motorsports driver has ever been first in points.
Smith performed well in the first restrictor-plate race of the season, finishing 14th after leading 23 laps in the season opener at Daytona. In two previous series starts at Talladega, Smith has finishes of 23rd and 37th. In last fall’s NSCS race, his most recent trip to the 2.66-mile Alabama track, however, the New York native finished fifth while driving for Furniture Row Racing.