Jeffrey Earnhardt never expected it; he also never asked for it.
But when his uncle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., called to offer him a seat in his No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet for Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN News), he was more than appreciative – he was surprised.
“I can’t thank Kelley and Dale Jr. enough for this chance,” said Earnhardt. “Hopefully I can go and represent them well and give the fans a good show.”
In 15 NASCAR Nationwide starts, his best finish was a 19th-place finish in the July Daytona race in 2011 when he drove two races for Rick Ware Racing. In his only other start that season, he finished 35th at Charlotte.
His first series campaign came two seasons prior when he drove the No. 40 Chevrolet in two races for Key Motorsports, Inc.
In 2012, he split six races between Rick Ware Racing, Go Green Racing and Randy Hill Racing. His best finish that season (21st) came in the inaugural series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race at Indy was also the only race in which he finished on the lead lap.
Earnhardt has started five races so far in 2013 for Go Green Racing. However, Friday’s race should be different.
The race, Earnhardt’s first at the Virginia track, could be one of his last opportunities to showcase his ability and hopefully parlay that into a more fulltime deal, either with JR Motorsports or another team that notices his talent and/or potential. JR Motorsports receives engines and support from Hendrick Motorsports, so he’ll be in top-notch equipment.
According to Jeffrey, the opportunity to race for his uncle is a culmination of all the hard work and patience he’s put it in to his career. It’s also more rewarding knowing that he earned this chance and that it wasn’t given to him because of obvious familial ties.
“I want to make sure I earn what I get. Doing it the hard way makes me appreciate the opportunity more,” said Earnhardt, who is NASCAR’s second fourth-generation driver (the other was the late Adam Petty). “The past couple years have been tough. All the hard work and the struggles have helped me mature as a driver and a person.”