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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

2010 turning into a driver search year for Dale Jr's Nationwide team

Things just haven’t been the same at JR Motorsports lately.

Their much-publicized deal with Danica Patrick will get them headlines, but it’s yet to yield solid results on the track. Round two will begins shortly, but it’s anyone’s guess how much Danica will improve.

There was a divorce from Kelly Bires already this year, as he just wasn’t improving in the car and the chemistry wasn’t there. In the ensuing search drivers including Steve Arpin and Landon Cassill have taken a shot driving for the team this year, but have had limited success.

Now, in the upcoming standalone Nationwide events, more young drivers, such as Coleman Pressley and Josh Wise will try to do a good job for the team and land a ride on a regular basis.

The problem is two-fold.
For starters, there isn’t the full sponsorship the team had when Brad Keselowski was driving for them the past few years.

Then, there is of course the driver. Losing a talented driver like Keselowski is always tough, especially when there’s no one who you will step in and keep things going at that level of success. It appears Bires couldn’t do that, setting up the current scenario of testing out endless drivers.

Last year, Keselowski ran in the top-5 almost every week. This year, the JR Motorsports cars haven’t come close to that, except occasionally when Dale hopes in a car.

What’s the lesson here? Even for a superstar like Dale Jr., keeping a team at a level where it continues to run well and compete for wins in the Nationwide series is a tough task that isn’t always going to work out, especially if the sponsorship money isn’t there.

All is not lost for the team, which will look back on 2010 as the year of its driver search. There is promise, though, for a happy ending. Danica may actually come through and become a competitive NASCAR driver eventually (“may” is the key word there), and after testing so many young drivers, Jr. is bound to find one eventually who fits well with the team and has the level of dedication and talent that he found with Keselowski.

When this happens, the team will see a return to the glory days of the past few years, when Keselowski would have won a couple titles if Cup interlopers didn’t steal the show (Ironically, Keselowski is now the Cup interloper trying to steal a title … but since he got robbed a couple times when he was just in Nationwide, it doesn’t bother me as much. He’s just trying to collect what he should already have.)

In the meantime, Jr. is doing what he has to do to get by with his Nationwide team, and in the process he hopes to find his next star to carry him back to Victory Lane and title contention.
There’s no guarantee that will happen, but if I were a young driver looking for a ride I know where I’d be sending my resume.

Former team owner Richard Jackson dies
Richard Jackson, a team owner in NASCAR for almost 30 years, has died. A lifetime racer, his accomplishments include winning the pole for the inaugural Brickyard 400, with driver Brett Bodine. He also fielded cars for Tommy Ellis, Dave Marcis, Benny Parsons, Terry Labonte, Rick Mast, Morgan Shepherd, Jerry Nadeau, Lance Hooper, and others. He won his first Winston Cup race in 1988 at Talladega with Phil Parsons.

Richard Jackson is survived by his wife Karen of 53 years, brother Leo Jackson Jr., sisters Patricia Marshall and Gail Morgan, daughter Lisa Jackson, and grandchildren Jackson T. Young (21) and Emily S. Young (18).

Fans walk the track at Charlotte
There were some pretty cool snapshots taken this past week by Harold Hinson at Charlotte, as thousands of fans took part in the Coca-Cola Family Track Walk and Quarter-Mile Cookout at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28. Fans walked the entire length of the 1.5-mile track, followed by a free cookout on the nation’s longest grill.

Looks like a lot of fun, though it might get kind of tricky at some of the higher-banked tracks.


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