NXS: JR Motorsports 2016 Review, 2017 Preview
Although 2016 didn’t end in one of their drivers lifting the Xfinity Series trophy and winning the championship, JR Motorsports had one of their most—if not the most—successful season to date. They put two cars in the Championship Four and had both in contention for the title up until the checkered flag flew. 2016 saw five trips to victory lane from three different drivers for JRM, with a whopping eight drivers getting behind the wheel, ranging from a former Monster Energy Cup Series champion to a specialty road-course racer.
Let’s begin with the veteran out of the JRM stable in Elliott Sadler. He garnered three wins on the campaign (Talladega, Darlington and Kentucky), 29 top tens and 14 top fives. He also was named Xfinity Series Most Popular Driver for the second time in his career. Despite only leading 123 laps, he came home second in the overall points standings behind eventual champion Daniel Suarez. And who knows, maybe if the final restart was clean and not clogged up by Cole Whitt, we’d be talking about the 41-year old Emporia, Va. native as the NXS champion. But Sadler’s best season in the series was this one, and he’s sure to be a threat to do one better in 2017 and end up as the champion in the No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet.
Justin Allgaier didn’t win a race in 2016, but also enjoyed immense, earning 27 top tens and 13 top fives. He only led 34 laps in 33 races, but came home third in the standings behind his teammate and Sadler. To only finish outside the top ten six times is a vast accomplishment for the No. 7 team. Ever since Allgaier moved down from Cup to run full-time in the Xfinity Series, he has improved his performance and is now a household name in the NXS garage.
2014 NASCAR Monster Energy Series champion Kevin Harvick ran seven races in the No. 88 car for JRM, but failed to reach victory lane at least once for the first time since 2011. He netted five top tens and two top tens. Another driver who competed at the sports top level (subbing for his boss, ironically) was Alex Bowman. He scored seven top tens and three top fives in nine races this past season. He earned won one pole at Michigan. He led 51 laps in those nine races, but failed to make a trip to victory lane in the No. 88 Chevrolet.
Kasey Kahne made one start in the No. 88 and led 30 laps on his way to a third-place finish. Kenny Habul made three starts (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America) in the Sun Energy 1 Chevrolet, but didn’t finish higher than 17th. In fact, his two other finishes were 36th and 34th, respectively. Nothing major to see from the 43-year old Canadian.
Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran two races before being sidelined due to his concussion, and was victorious in one of them at Richmond. He also finished inside the top five in both of his events. MENCS Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott opened the season for JRM with bang, winning the season-opening contest at Daytona. He went on to score six top tens and three top fives in six starts to go along with 31 laps led in the No. 88.
JR Motorsports will expand to four full-time cars with one part-time for 2017. Two of the four will remain the same: Sadler in the No. 1 and Allgaier in the No. 7. The two additions are a bit different.
One is Michael Annett, who is following in Allgaier’s footsteps. He is moving from HScott Motorsports in the Cup Series to a full-time ride with a premier team in Xfinity. He is bringing sponsorship with him in the form of Pilot/Flying J. The 30-year old Des Moines, Ia. native signed a multi-year contract with JRM, with the sponsor coming along for the ride. In four full seasons in NXS, Annett has a total of 30 top ten finishes and 45 laps led. A crew chief for Annett and the No. 5 team have yet to be announced by the team.
The other driver who will be driving full-time for JRM is reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion William Byron. The kid is only 18-years old, but he’s in one of the best positions in all of NASCAR. He won seven times in the 2016 NCWTS season, and would have won the title if his engine didn’t expire, just like Martin Truex Jr.’s did, at Phoenix. He’s not only a favorite for the Rookie of the Year award in the series, but also the championship. Kahne and Earnhardt Jr. will also split duties driving the No. 88 car, both scheduled for two races in 2017.
So, with four full-time teams, two accomplished drivers, one that is the future of the sport, one with something to prove and two veterans, JR Motorsports seems to be on the fast track to even more success in 2017. Will they deliver? That remains to be seen.
Davey Segal is a junior sports journalism major from Rockville, Maryland. He attended his first race in 2002 at Dover International Speedway with his father, and fell in love with the sport immediately. He would love nothing more to graduate from Michigan State University with his journalism degree and begin to cover America's No. 1 motorsport as a profession. He writes about the sport for Speedway Media, Fronstretch and Impact 89 FM and proceeds a weekly podcast about all things NASCAR. He enjoys only one thing more than sitting on his couch every weekend and watching the action unfold: being at the race track to see it for himself.