DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 19: Justin Algaer, driver of the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, (left) and Noah Gragson, driver of the #9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/BRCC Chevrolet, speak on the grid while qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Beef. It’s what for dinner. 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Chase Elliott, Regan Smith and Kevin Harvick won races in the first 11 events of the season (comprising 34 starts) to line up with 16 of the top five and 28 of the top 10. As of last Saturday, after 11 races, JRM’s 2022 team has topped the 2014 group in all but one of the classes.
Noah Gragson (Phoenix, Talladega), Josh Perry (Dover) and Justin Algayer (Darlington) have had four wins in 11 races (in 46 total starts), outnumbered the top five by five (21) and have fallen to only two places. 10 finishes below the 2014 pace of 28 in the first 34 starts.
Of course, JRM ran three cars a week for most of that distance in 2014 as opposed to the sometimes four-car and five-car lineups in 2022. Among the drivers in this 11-race race were 2014 Series Finalist Elliott, and 2014 runner-up. Smith, Harvick, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Kahn.
By the end of the 2014 race schedule of 33 races, Elliott was the series champion, with a 42-point lead over Smith in a 1-2 team sweep, and JRM racking up nine overall wins along the way.
The momentum of a fiery start to ’22 is beginning to solidify, but its roots lie in a process that began in 2014, according to Mike Bumgarner, Perry’s chief of staff this season and chief of two-person crew from Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. Bumgarner is a 20-plus-year veteran at Hendrick Motorsports. and JRM in a variety of roles.
“I think the most important thing is that we worked hard over the winter building newer cars, newer chassis,” Baumgarner said. “Hendrick Motorsports has done a good job with the engines and chassis that contribute to everything we do. Driver lineup too… I think we are as strong as ever, Josh and Sam (Meyer) learning and getting better every week. They depend on Noah. And Justin, our top leaders, and these guys have been very open to helping them progress. All of the above contributed to the performance aspect.”
The 2014 season was one of the big changes for JRM, as the team’s focus took a new direction and pushed some of the competition issues to a successful resolution.
The drivers, led by Allgaier and Gragson veterans and a fervor of 18-year-old Berry and Mayer’s enthusiasm, also made a huge difference.
“At any moment on Saturday, you put one of those two cars (Perry and Meyer) ahead of the other guys and they’re going to win the race,” Baumgarner said. “They drive the same cars, and it becomes more and more difficult to beat your teammates. This is great, because if one of us fails, the other guys will pick it up and be able to win the company.”
The point was made very clear at Dover on April 29, when Perry drove Allgaier to the finish line for victory with Gragson fourth and Mayer fifth. It was the first time in team history that all four JRM cars finished in the top five and rank as the top four cars in team history.
At the fall race in Las Vegas last year, JRM finished 1-2-3 with Perry, Algayer and Gregson (Mayer was eliminated in a crash). Baumgarner referred to this race as a precursor to a hot start in 2022.
“The construction has been done and we have come a long way in the past six months thanks to everyone’s hard work,” he said. “The company and the drivers give us all the tools we need to get out and perform.”
Gregson’s strong finishing touches continued into 2021 through 2022, as she partnered with new crew chief Luke Lambert and made the Chevrolet’s Bass Pro/True Timber/Black Rifle Coffee Shop one of the must-sees every time. Gregson has won Phoenix and Talladega, and has had chances to win nearly every race so far this season.
Lambert, who came early in the season, echoed Baumgarner’s ideas.
“Things I find encouraging, and there are a lot of them as an organization, is that we have all the pieces to do,” Lambert said. “What we are doing at this point in the season is just focusing on improving our execution and putting ourselves where we need to be behind in the season, so we can make it when the time comes.
“To have a strong end-of-year performance it takes continuous improvement of the process and preparation, how we go about the weekend. We are trying to get better every week. We have really good race cars right now, and everyone in the company is doing their job to put really fast race cars on the track.” .
Ironically, the next race on the NXS schedule is May 21 at Texas Motor Speedway, where the race to the 2014 NXS Championship really begins.
– Motorsports –