Diverse JR Motorsports trio leads NASCAR Xfinity Series into Road America – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
ELKHART LAKE – As teammates go, these three from JR Motorsports cover quite the spectrum.
Elliott Sadler is a Virginia boy through and through who loves his hunting dogs about as much as his racing. At 42 he has been in NASCAR for more than half of his life.
Justin Allgaier is 31 and from Illinois, where he drove whatever he could on dirt or asphalt. Like Sadler, he has raced in the top ranks and moved back the No. 2 division.
And William Byron is the sport’s latest wunderkind, a native of Charlotte, N.C., the epicenter, who learned to race on his computer and will begin his first Cup season next year at age 20.
“William and I laugh all the time,” Sadler said Saturday. “I had already won three Xfinity races before he was born.”
But for their apparent differences, similarities are easy to find. Just look at the Xfinity Series standings heading into Sunday’s Johnsonville 180:
1. Sadler. 2. Byron. 3. Allgaier.
“You’ve got guys in different stages in their careers, experience levels and there’s different things that makes each of them great, which ultimately helps the other drivers,” said Ryan Pemberton, competition director for JR Motorsports.
“We’ve got a little bit of everything, but they all play off each other and they get to know each other the more they can learn from each other, know traits and characteristics of each guy’s driving style and their handling and things like that, and that just helps build the whole race team from one end to the other.”
Since Sadler’s NASCAR debut in 1995, he has made more than 800 starts across the three national series.
What is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has had four title sponsors in his tenure; Sadler won once in the Winston era and twice in Nextel. His record also shows 20 victories in what is now Xfinity and one in the Camping World Truck Series. After 12 years in Cup, Sadler has spent the past six in Xfinity.
Allgaier came out of ARCA and has spent seven of his nine full NASCAR seasons in Xfinity, winning four times. Joining JR Motorsports last year was a refreshing change after two Cup Series seasons with a small team that wore Allgaier down.
Byron won seven times as a truck series rookie last year for Kyle Busch and then signed with Hendrick Motorsports to race in Xfinity one season and then move to Hendrick’s No. 5 Cup car.
JR has a fourth team, launched this season around driver Michael Annett, who is 11th in points.
“Obviously this is my first year in the Xfinity Series, and Justin and Elliott have been here for quite a while,” Byron said. “They understand the flow of the weekend and what they need their cars to be for the race. I’m learning from all them.”
The education works both ways.
“Elliott needs William as much as William needs Elliott,” Allgaier said.
“Elliott needs William to understand where the simulator and the technology end is coming in, because that’s not how he grew up. But William needs to know the history of how these races work.”
Sadler pointed to New Hampshire, where Byron was able to pass along tips he picked up while driving General Motors’ full-motion simulator.
By all accounts, the JR Motorsports drivers are as much friends as teammates, and the open-book approach upon which co-owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller insist is as big a part of their overall success as anything.
Of 22 Xfinity races this season, Cup regulars have won 15, and two of the others went to Xfinity part-timers Ryan Preece and Sam Hornish Jr. JR Motorsports has won four of the other five, three by Byron and one by Allgaier.
Under the longtime full-season point system, the team would have a near lock on the title, but NASCAR instituted playoff last year in the Xfinity Series. Over the final seven races, the field of contenders will be cut from 12 to eight contenders and then four for the winner-take-all showdown in Homestead, Fla.
“It doesn’t matter to me outside of winning what we do anywhere but Homestead,” said Sadler, who lost the title to Daniel Suarez last season.
“We dominated last year, but we didn’t win the right race and finished second. Now we know that no matter what happens through this part of the season, it is what it is, you shake it off and you steadily build your momentum toward the playoffs and go to Homestead and race for it.”
Not that momentum is a big problem at the moment for the drivers first, second and third in points.