(photo courtesy Jeff Gluck/SB Nation)
JR Motorsports made it official with its announcement of a joining of forces between JR Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. With that announcement and the unveiling of the new JR Motorsports #3 Wrangler Chevy NASCAR fans will see this car race in the July Daytona Nationwide Series.
For the first time since Earnhardt Jr.’s widely publicized split from Dale Earnhardt Inc. – the team his late father owned and founded – the driver sat alongside DEI president Teresa Earnhardt, cameras and eyes focused on their every interaction.
It looked awkward, though Earnhardt Jr. softly said it wasn’t as bad as it may have appeared. Though he wasn’t sure what to expect, he and his stepmother aren’t as odds as much as people think, he said, and this day was all about something greater.
This was something they could all agree on: Honoring Dale Earnhardt Sr.
And so an opportunity that not many would have thought was realistic has become a reality: Earnhardt Jr. will be behind the wheel of a No. 3 car – albeit in the Nationwide Series – with one of the famous Wrangler paint schemes that marked his legendary father’s early career.
He will drive the #3 for the first time since 2002 in the July 2 Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway, his only schedule appearance in the car.
The combined effort meant cooperation was needed from not only Wrangler, but from Richard Childress Racing (which will enter the 3 car under its banner), DEI (which tightly controls Earnhardt Sr.’s legacy) and Hendrick Motorsports (which gave its blessing for Earnhardt Jr. to drive for another team).
And it all started with Earnhardt Jr.’s idea. The team had an opening for sponsorship at Daytona in July, and he suggested getting Wrangler involved.
A major NASCAR history buff, Earnhardt Jr. had long thought about what it would be like to drive the Wrangler car. He floated it out to his sister Kelley – who runs the JR Motorsports team – and by the time he heard about the idea again, plans were already underway for the car to race.
It was a happy, exciting day for Earnhardt Jr. He took out his phone and proudly showed reporters a picture of himself in a Wrangler firesuit from a recent photoshoot in advance of the Daytona race.
But with all the tension between Teresa Earnhardt and the stepchildren whose failed power play to control DEI forced them to leave their father’s team in 2007, how were all parties able to work together?
As Kelley Earnhardt said, if everyone would remind themselves of the ultimate goal – honoring Earnhardt Sr. – then their differences could be put aside.
And there are differences, still. Earnhardt Jr. and Teresa sat alongside one another during the news conference –which took place on Dale Earnhardt Day, the celebration of what would have been the seven-time Cup champion’s 59th birthday – but it wasn’t the most comfortable of scenes.
Though everyone smiled politely, an awkward hug between Teresa and Martha Earnhardt – the matriarch of the Earnhardt family – and hints dropped during the news conference indicated time had not healed all wounds.
For most all of the NASCAR fans, seeing the #3 Wrangler Chevy return to the track in Daytona will be a thrilling and joyous occasion! Not only will the July 4th weekend be a patriotic ordeal, but the die-hard NASCAR will be flocking to the track for a glimpse of Dale Jr. driving the car honoring his father, “The Intimidator”!