2015 NXS Preview: JR Motorsports

2015 NXS Preview: JR Motorsports

by January 24, 2015 0 comments

Photo credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images

Change is to be the theme of the 2015 XFINITY Series season for JR Motorsports, and how well they adapt to said change will determine how far the team goes with their championship aspirations this season.

While the driver lineup that will compete for the drivers’ championship will remain the same this year with Chase Elliott and Regan Smith returning to their respective cars, not all is to be the same with the No. 9 and No. 7 teams as it was last year.

2014’s one-two finishers in the points standings, Elliott and Smith, will both receive new crew chiefs for the upcoming season.

Elliott’s crew chief in his championship-winning effort, Greg Ives, will move up to the Sprint Cup Series this year to work with team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. as crew chief for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team.

Filling the void on top of the No. 9 NXS pit box created by Ives will be Ernie Cope, who served as crew chief for JR Motorsports’s No. 5 team in 2014 and went to victory lane on four occasions with Kevin Harvick and once with Kasey Kahne last year.

Replacing Ryan Pemberton as crew chief for the No. 7 team is Jason Burdett, Earnhardt Jr’s car chief for the past four seasons in the Sprint Cup Series.

Getting these new driver/crew chief lineups quickly up to speed will be the challenge for the early part of the season.

If both combinations can get out of the gate swiftly after Daytona, it should be smooth sailing for both teams throughout the rest of the year. The goal for both the No. 9 and No. 7 teams is simple really, don’t put yourself in a hole early while developing a chemistry between both driver and crew chief.

Elliott and Cope should be able to get up to speed quickly as they have had one start together at Road America (Cope replaced Ives due to the then regular crew chief of the No. 9 car’s birth of his third child) that resulted in a fourth-place finish.

Cope’s ability to work well with a variety of drivers bodes well for another strong season for Elliott; Smith, however, will start his season with a new crew chief that is completely fresh to the XFINITY Series.

Burdett comes to JR Motorsports having previously served as car chief for Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon in the Sprint Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports as well as having stints of working with NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett at both Robert Yates Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing in the past.

The Arkport, New York, native only has a single partial season as a crew chief under his belt with Jarrett in 14 races for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007.

A new crew chief doesn’t necessarily indicate an impending slow start to the season for the No. 7 team, however, as Smith won last year’s season opener at Daytona International Speedway with new crew chief Pemberton and was able to hold the points lead through the first five races of the season.

JR Motorsports’s car that will run strictly for the owners’ championship, the newly-renumbered No. 88 car, will also receive a new crew chief with Dave Elenz and will be driven by Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, Kahne, and 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Ben Rhodes throughout the entire season.

As was the case last year, Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, and Kahne will likely find themselves contending for several victories this year while Rhodes, like Austin Theriault and Josh Berry the previous season, will have an opportunity to prove his worth on NASCAR’s national level.

Despite several shakeups in the personnel department, JR Motorsports look as if they will have another winning season on their hands.

Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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