Embroiled in Controversies, Dale Earnhardt Jr Drops 2-Word Verdict on Star Driver’s NASCAR Fate

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 22: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, speaks with the media without a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series patch on his firesuit during the Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
JR Motorsports began as a team of one in a little shed in Mooresville, NC. Founded with the purpose of serving as the marketing arm of Dale Earnhardt Jr, it was initially used to sell t-shirts and similar merchandise in his name. Fast forward a couple of decades and the name has become a force to be reckoned with in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
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The marketing department-turned-racing team currently holds 3 Xfinity championships in its cabinet and boasts of producing multiple rookie champions in the likes of Chase Elliot, William Byron, and Tyler Reddick. Announcing a move that would further JR Motorsports toward higher echelons, Junior disclosed a highly anticipated decision involving a promising youngster.
Dale Earnhardt Jr reveals final verdict on his young Xfinity driver
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On September 15, 2020, JR Motorsports announced that they had penned an agreement with a teen talent who raced in the ARCA Menards to drive one of their cars in the Xfinity Series full-time in 2022. In a mere 48 hours from when the announcement was made, the young racer won a Truck Series race and an ARCA race in a single night at Bristol, putting himself in the spotlight of the stock car community.
The then-17-year-old is the now-racing prodigy that Dale Jr has put his trust behind, and has signed for another season in 2024. He is Sam Mayer. Sam currently sits at the 5th spot in the driver standings going into the first round of the playoffs at Bristol.
The driver scored his first career win earlier this year at Road America and followed that with another win at the Watkins Glen International. With strong performances adding credibility to Dale Jr’s decision to sign the youngster back in 2020, the veteran took it to his X handle to pop open the celebration bottle, as he curtly tweeted, “He’s back.”
In the wake of the announcement, Sam expressed his gratitude to his benefactors in a team release, and said, “It’s been a great year for our No. 1 team. Finally getting that first win this year was like a weight lifted and so energizing. I’m really grateful to continue my career with JR Motorsports and thankful to Dale Jr., Kelley and Mr.Hendrick for making it happen. Now we can turn our attention to a championship run this year.”
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There are two paths that the story of this youngster rising through the NASCAR ranks can take. They can either go on to become a phenomenon or fall through the cracks like hundreds before them have done. While Sam Mayer’s stats hint at him taking the former path, his aggressive nature behind the wheel might suggest otherwise.
Sam Mayer’s character behind the wheel could backfire on Dale Jr and his team
Having not yet seen the checkered flag on two full seasons in Xfinity, Sam has already made enemies with a number of drivers on the grid. Prime and most notable among them would be Ty Gibbs, the grandson of NASCAR veteran Joe Gibbs. The controversies that were already brewing between the two fledglings peaked last month at Watkins Glen.
Sam spun Ty in a late caution and took the win for himself. The latter had led 70 of the 86 laps in the circuit but was left without being able to taste the victory that appeared so close. In a classic outburst, Ty had called Sam out saying, “I think when you have to race out of desperation like that and you wheel-hop and clean the leader out, I guess you can call it a racing move.”
A more recent spark that Sam ignited was at the Darlington Raceway at the onset of this month. Climbing from a spot outside the Xfinity playoff’s cut-off line, 33-year-old Parker Kligerman had gone to Darlington 20 points above it. But then, Sam happened.
As the race headed towards its final moments, Parker’s Chevrolet was hit from behind by Sam. As a result, in place of what was becoming a strong finish, Parker had to settle for a lowly P24. Reflecting on the incident, he said, “I’ve worked hard to have this opportunity. It’s been almost a decade in the making. I’m not going to let some kid knocking us around take the wind out of my sails.”
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Going into the 2023 season’s playoffs, Junior might want to have a chat with Sam Mayer and help him figure out what collateral damages are affordable for his team in winning races. Despite betting strongly on the youngster, Dale Jr. would not get accustomed to watching his car play ‘monster truck’ on the race track. But as things stand, the team owner and driver have got a greater purpose to focus on.
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With the regular season ending at Kansas last weekend, the 12 drivers racing in the playoffs have been finalized. In line with the words from Sam in JRM’s press release, “Attention will now turn to a championship run this year.” Up next, fans await seeing Sam drive his No. 1 Chevrolet for Dale Jr at the Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend!

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