Racing sensation Dale Earnhardt Jr knows how to manage a winning NASCAR team in the Xfinity Series. His No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevy team routinely wins championships on the second-tier circuit over the past decade. Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, and William Byron all won championships in Earnhardt Jr’s car, and Noah Gragson looks like a top contender this year after finishing third in 2021 for the team.
But what will it take for NASCAR’s longtime most popular driver to step up to the Cup Series as a team owner?
Junior no doubt possesses the connections, skills, and financial backing to compete at NASCAR’s highest level. His own sister, a co-owner of JR Motorsports, has expressed interest in making the leap more than once. So what is holding the team back?
Dale Earnhardt Jr spoke in April 2021 about forming a NASCAR Cup Series team; specifically about acquiring one or more of the 36 charters. Kelley Earnhardt Miller just told NBC Sports, “the window is not closed,” though the timing has to be right.
One aspect of that timing boils down to parts and technology. NASCAR just introduced their Next Gen car, which required teams to invest in brand new infrastructure that made previous cars obsolete. But then again, waiting for a year or two to see how the new tech affects team ownership could make sense, as well, if it positions the team for quicker success.
Dale Earnhardt Jr would lose a powerful ally if he jumps to NASCAR’s top circuit
Junior and his management team would immediately face a significant hurdle, though, if they do jump into the Cup Series. Rick Hendrick of powerhouse racing team Hendrick Motorsports would have to divest from JR Motorsports. This is due to NASCAR bylaws prohibiting ownership in multiple teams. Furthermore, losing Hendrick would put strain on Junior’s potential charter acquisition chances. Though a team can enter cars in Cup Series races without having to qualify on Saturdays, operating without a charter cuts the owner out of significant prize money.
In other words, the demand for NASCAR’s 36 charters skyrocketed immensely since the arrival of the Next Gen car; and losing an investor who already owns charters would make the process even tougher.
Even with charters going for double the $6 million price tag from just a few years ago, multiple lower-level teams continue to clamor for access. Kaulig Racing made exactly the sort of move Junior has been contemplating by adding a Cup Series team to its successful Xfinity program. Trackhouse Racing and Live Fast Motorsports have also entered the fray in the past two years. Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing launched with one car and expanded to two, both operating with charters. Richard Petty Motorsports became Petty GMS Motorsports and doubled in size, both with charters, as well.
Short of Wood Brothers or Rick Ware stepping away from the sport, the prospects for acquiring a charter are slim. Unless, of course, he wants to go deep into his own pocket. Junior could still certainly step into NASCAR’s top series, but the barriers to entry will only continue to grow in years to come.