MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Kelly Bires was released Tuesday by sponsorship-strapped JR Motorsports, which is finding it difficult to develop young drivers without corporate backing.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. created the team as an avenue to develop drivers in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series level. But he and his family are running much of this season out of pocket because sponsorship has been difficult to land.
Bires drove JRM's flagship No. 88, which is only partially funded this year. Danica Patrick drives the No. 5 on a part-time basis with sponsorship from GoDaddy.com, but JRM is trying to run that car the entire season.
"We are extremely appreciative of Kelly Bires and wish him the best," said Kelley Earnhardt, co-owner of JRM and Earnhardt's sister.
"Internally, it was evident the chemistry that is imperative for us to succeed in this highly competitive industry was simply not there. That is the fault of no one person. We owe it to our fans and sponsors to make necessary adjustments in an effort to put our best product on the track, and we'll continue evaluating our progress until we are confident that our full potential is being reached," she said.
Bires did not run the season-opening event at Daytona because a sponsor commitment required Earnhardt to drive that race. He did pilot the No. 88 in the previous five events, finishing a season-best seventh at California in his only top 10 this year.
Jamie McMurray will drive nine races for JRM, beginning this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Kelley Earnhardt said the team has sponsorship from Hellman's for seven and the Suave Men brand in the other two.
No decision on a driver has been made beyond McMurray's commitment.
It's possible that Earnhardt himself may have to drive the car some this season to bring in additional funds, a plan that goes against his initial reasons for creating the team. Earnhardt envisioned JRM as a place where his friends and family could work while helping young drivers move through the NASCAR ranks.
His most successful partnership was with Brad Keselowski, who took over the No. 88 midway through the 2007 season. Keselowski won six races, grabbed consecutive third-place finishes in the 2008 and 2009 final standings and moved on this year to a Sprint Cup Series ride with Penske Racing.
Bires was tagged to replace Keselowski this season but was immediately overshadowed by Patrick, who in December chose JRM to partner with in NASCAR. She has driven three of her scheduled 13 races so far this season.
The season even opened with some controversy for Bires as Patrick was unsure if she'd race at Daytona and the decision directly affected Bires. Because Earnhardt was already committed to the No. 88 for that event, Bires' only way into the race was if Patrick opted not to run and Bires was given the seat to the No. 5.
"Not a good day," Bires posted on his Twitter account following Tuesday's announcement.
"Will continue working hard. I know I belong and will be successful in this sport. JRM gave me an opportunity, it just didn't work out," he said.