Big weekend for JR Motorsports as flagship 88 team screams into Victory Lane

Updated: June 3, 2008

AP Photo/Frederick Breedon

Brad Keselowski, right, battles Kyle Busch early on at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday night.

This one truly hit home for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Nationwide Series team owner.

When Mark Martin won at Las Vegas earlier this season, it was the first win for JR Motorsports -- a win that may understandably have left Earnhardt with mixed emotions on some levels.

For starters, Martin ended up in Victory Lane only after triggering a late-race accident that sent teammate Brad Keselowski, who was leading at the time, into the wall. Keselowski was driving the team's flagship No. 88 entry, which gave JR Motorsports its start in the series.

Martin, meanwhile, was in the No. 5 car that, while firmly in the JR Motorsports stable, is still associated with Hendrick Motorsports and Rick Hendrick, the man who owned the team for years. That's why Martin even said in Victory Lane how special it was to win a race for Hendrick, who merged his Nationwide Series team with Earnhardt's at the first of the year as part of the deal that brought Junior to Hendrick Motorsports' Sprint Cup operation.

The No. 5 team moved from Hendrick's shop in Concord, N.C., to JR Motorsports' shop in Mooresville, N.C., as a unit, from cars and equipment to many of the employees. So the win, while Earnhardt's first as an owner, wasn't truly viewed as his win by some.

This one, though, was different, as Keselowski, with Tony Eury Sr. as his crew chief, drove to the win in Tennessee.

"It's nice to win with Brad because he's a full-time Nationwide driver, and even more so because we built the team from the ground up," Earnhardt said. "It's gratifying because we started it from scratch. That's pretty cool."

Earnhardt certainly enjoyed Martin's win, though, and knows Keselowski's might not have happened at Nashville without the help of Hendrick Motorsports.

"The win with Mark was different because of his history and statistics, and what he means to this sport. It was a pretty big deal to have a win with him," Earnhardt said. "Obviously that 5 car means a lot to Rick. The partnership with me and Rick is more evident within the 5 team.

"The 88 team we started on our own, but his influence in that team and his ability to make our whole program better is pretty evident. I don't know if it happens this soon without his help this year. The two wins were definitely different but equally as important for the company."

Close But No Cigar

In March, fuel-mileage issues left David Reutimann shaking his head at the one that might have gotten away. This time, a late-race caution left him in the lead, but as a sitting duck for Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski.

Sure the third-place finish left him second in points, but it also left him searching for his first win of the year in his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

"When you have a lead like that, and you end up third, it doesn't -- these races aren't all that easy to win, despite what some people think," Reutimann said. "And when you have a chance to win, and you don't, it's cause for me to get a little upset."

Bowyer got past Reutimann first on the restart, then Keselowski, who would then pass Bowyer for the win.

"[Bowyer] got a good start and we got down into [Turn] 3 and he was real close to the back of me and got me loose," said Reutimann, who added that he'd have made it the distance on fuel even without the late caution. "[Bowyer] didn't touch me -- we were racing. I let him get too close to me and it wiggled us up the racetrack. Then we got moved up [the track] again and just lost positions and had to get back down. Once the 2 [Bowyer's car] got to us, it was game over."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN. He can be reached at mark.ashenfelter@espn.com.

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Mike Wallace Remains Hopeful

Mike Wallace

Wallace

The move to Germain Racing was made with the thought that it would help Mike Wallace get back to Victory Lane. So far this year, he hasn't been in contention for a win, but a season-best sixth-place run at Nashville has the veteran feeling as if he's heading in the right direction.

"I'm very, very excited about it. How does it always happen when you get your best finish, you're wishing for one more spot?" Wallace asked. "I was trying to get in the top five of course and a little bragging rights for the team and bonus money for them.

"All in all, our team is really coming together good. … We were working on top-10s and now were getting closer to those top-5s. We said once we got ourselves so we could run in the top five, then we'd be in the position to win, and that's what we need to do."

Wallace said sponsor Geico has been pleased with the way things are going on and off the track and Wallace said the only pressure to perform is self-imposed.

"That's good, and the team wants to win," Wallace said. "That's why I went to Germain Racing, because they know how to win races. Even though this is kind of a new deal for them, they still know how to do it, and I'm really happy with the guys, and good pit stops are all coming together."

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