JR Motorsports is the new team to beat in Nationwide Series

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Last year, the Nationwide Series effectively belonged to Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing. Penske’s platoon of drivers for its No. 22 car (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger) and JGR’s Kyle Busch in the No. 54 car flat-out dominated NASCAR’s No. 2 national series.

But so far this year in the NNS, JR Motorsports has been returning the favor.

Kevin Harvick brought home JRM’s third consecutive NNS win last night in Richmond, while Chase Elliott, the man that had won the first two races in that streak, finished second.

Overall, it’s the fourth win in eight races this year for the JRM camp when you count Regan Smith’s season-opening victory at Daytona International Speedway.

And while Smith has been somewhat overshadowed by Elliott’s meteoric rise as of late, he’s also posted Top-10 results in every race (he finished eighth after contact with Elliott Sadler caused him to spin off of a late restart).

Then there’s the fact that Elliott and Smith are first and second in the NNS championship standings.

Indeed, between the strong cars and talented stable of drivers, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears to have created a monster.

“All the performance on all the cars is a direct reflection of everybody that works there,” Earnhardt said after another trip to Victory Lane. “It’s working good and I hope we can keep it going. I think we can get even better and continue to get stronger.”

Following his first win as a member of JRM, Harvick admitted that he was a little surprised that everything’s worked out as well as it has – but he’s certainly enjoying it.

“It’s a lot of fun to see this whole thing come together,” he said. “It’s still kind of strange sitting up here with [Earnhardt] and in Victory Lane.

“We talked about a lot of things going into the year and you want them all to come together, but I don’t think anybody knew they’d come together like they have. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Now, Busch and the Penske No. 22 haven’t fallen off completely in 2014. Busch has taken the No. 54 to two wins in the NNS at Phoenix and Bristol, while Keselowski took the No. 22 to a win in Las Vegas.

But at least for the time being, JRM has become the team to beat.

“There is a lot of effort put in by everybody back at the shop, and it’s great to see it paying off,” said Smith.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.