JR Motorsports Primed to Win 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Championship

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2012

CONCORD, NC - DECEMBER 11:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. (L), driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, speaks with Regan Smith, driver of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, in the garage area during testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway on December 11, 2012 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

JR Motorsports had a mission to bring developmental drivers into the second-tier series of NASCAR with hopes they would further their careers. Now they are serious about winning a title with a former Cup driver wheeling their car in 2013.

Regan Smith drove for Furniture Row Racing in the No. 78 Sprint Cup car, but he was released late in the 2012 season and replaced by Kurt Busch. 

After filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the two races that he was forced to sit out during the Chase because of double concussions, Smith had a chance to work with Hendrick Motorsports personnel.

JR Motorsports is aligned with Hendrick Motorsports, and Rick Hendrick has partial ownership of the Mooresville organization.

It was announced by Kelley Earnhardt Miller that Smith would drive the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro full time in the 2013 season. They will likely be the only full-time team at JRM.

Danica Patrick wheeled the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for them during three seasons, but with her running in the Cup series full time next season, it remains to be seen if and how many races she might run for the organization.

Earnhardt will continue to run the No. 88 for a few select races in the Nationwide series. Cole Whitt is scheduled to run the No. 7 on a part-time schedule unless additional sponsorship is found for the team.

Smith ran his first race for JR Motorsports at the season finale in Homestead. It may not have been a huge surprise that he won the race, which bodes well for the 2013 season.

David Newton's article on ESPN.com quoted Earnhardt as saying, "He has a super personality, and his ability to work with everyone here at JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports will be important in getting us back to the winner's circle."

It had been 78 races since a driver from JRM had found Victory Lane. The organization didn't seem to be going in the direction it had intended, which resulted in dramatic changes.

Last fall saw the release of Tony Eury Sr. from JRM, which was followed shortly by the departure of Tony Eury Jr., who had been Patrick's crew chief.

Ryan Pemberton was brought in initially as Patrick's crew chief, and he is now competition director. Pemberton is expected to be a strong asset in the realignment of the two operations with his extensive background in NASCAR racing.

In an effort to further strengthen JRM, Greg Ives, formerly a race engineer for Jimmie Johnson at HMS, was named crew chief for Smith. Ives worked with the No. 48 team during the five Cup championships.

Some drivers drop back from Cup racing to the Nationwide series because they are not performing well or lack sponsorship. In most cases, the results are strong runs for those drivers.

Elliott Sadler is a prime example of moving from Cup to the second tier of NASCAR, where he battled for a series title during the last two seasons.

Smith has been given an outstanding ride with JR Motorsports and the support of Hendrick Motorsports. Personnel changes look to be amped up for maximum performance with the No. 5 car.

There are several very talented drivers who will be making a run for the NASCAR Nationwide title in 2013, but it appears Smith may be a prime candidate to hoist the championship trophy at season's end.