By: Ashley McCubbin
After turning a partial schedule last season into running all of the events after the COVID-19 break, Jeffrey Earnhardt will return to the Xfinity Series full-time in 2021 with JD Motorsports.
The fourth generation racer proved he had speed last season with 10 top-20 finishes, and spoke about his hopes of carrying that forward this year recently.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts entering the season?
JEFFREY EARNHARDT: I’m very excited, one, to be running a full season with JD Motorsports and back with those guys, but to be able to come in and have a game plan and be a little more prepared than last year and capitalize on the season on a whole and on our best, is what I’m looking forward to the most.
Last year, I came in expecting to run five races and than five races turned into the rest of the season once we came back from the delay with COVID. It all kind of fell together relatively quick and last minute, so this year, getting a little head start on it is going to be a help for us for sure.
ASHLEY: Knowing the performances you put together last season, what are your goals for the season?
JEFFREY: I think our average finish was like 22nd. We had a couple solid top-15 runs at certain tracks – Richmond, Texas, Charlotte ROVAL – should’ve had some more, but mechanical issues or stuff out of our hands took place. But I want to be in the top-15 every weekend. I know those guys are capable of doing it. We just need to be a little better prepared every week going to the track.
Last year was a bit of change with no practice and stuff, but the guys did an exceptional job preparing cars every week. We just have to try and be a little bit better this coming year. I know all the hard work they’ve been doing over the off-season will translate to that – just preparing the cars a little better, going through our parts and throwing out parts that are mileaged out. All of that translates to finishing races, and if we can finish races, I know we can run top-15; really looking forward to pushing the guys at the shop, pushing myself, and trying to achieve that goal.
ASHLEY: What’s the biggest thing you felt you learned in 2020 to help you in 2021?
JEFFREY: Adapting to the no practice deal was the biggest change for me. Really being able to break the car down in the first run and try to get it tuned on and as dialed in as best I could with the right feedback to the crew chief to make the right changes to get our car where it needs to be, since you may not have been quite there without any practice. But really, the guys did a great job with the circumstances; I thought they were good at showing up to the track and be relatively close. We’d dial it in with small changes, but nothing too drastic just about every weekend.
But that being said, we can always do better as there’s plenty of room for improvement, so I am going to push the guys so that happens so we’re running the best we possibly can every weekend.
ASHLEY: What track(s) are you most excited for?
JEFFREY: I’m really excited for some of the new tracks as I like a challenge. So going to COTA is going to be really exciting. I was kind of hoping we were going to be going to Bristol and running on dirt as I playing in the dirt and going back to my racing background where I first started out. Kind of disappointed the Xfinity Series doesn’t get to go there, but COTA for sure. I’ve heard so much great stuff about that track and the phenomenal job they did with building it.
Just all of them – I like to show up every weekend and trying to find a new challenge that I struggle with the previous year. You might learn something one weekend, but then you find something else that you may have struggled with and it makes a new challenge. I feel every race I am looking forward to, and over-achieving what people may think JD Motorsports is capable of doing, and the possibilities of what we can do in running top-15 every weekend, and flirting with the top-10, putting kick ass runs like that. I’m really looking forward to that.
ASHLEY: You’ve been around racing your whole life. What is it like for you carrying the family legacy forward in NASCAR?
JEFFREY: The legacy my grandfather (Dale Earnhardt) built probably drives me the most, and how hard he worked to build the Earnhardt name and make it what it is today. So to try and carry that legacy on the best I can, I know without a doubt there’s no chance in hell I’ll be able to fill the shoes that he left and I don’t want to; those were his shoes.
To go out there and try to carry the Earnhardt name and the legacy on the way he would want it to be carried on is how I’ve tried to live my life and base my career on in working for everything I’ve got. Busting my butt to get to where I am today is all things that I know without a doubt he’d be proud of, and that’s kind of what I look forward to the most every year – make him proud and carry the legacy on.
ASHLEY: Speaking of busting your butt, We’ve watched your career take a unique path between Cup and Xfinity starts. If there was one piece of advice you could’ve given yourself five years ago based on what you’ve learned since, what would that be?
JEFFREY: Just to never get down. There’s been situations that I’ve gotten pretty discouraged and thought it was all coming to an end. Things happen for a reason – one door may close for another open, or one may close to teach you a lesson. I may have been more disappointed than I should have been when things would happen, but at the end of the day, I realized they happened for a reason – whether for a better door to open, or for me to a learn. It had a purpose for it to happen that way. I guess to just accept the facts a little better than I may have in the past, rather than getting worked out or upset. Look at the positive out of everything and move forward from it and make it better.
ASHLEY: Outside of NASCAR, is there another form of motorsports that you’d like to take part in one day?
JEFFREY: Shoot, anything. If you put me in anything, I’d love to drive it. I love playing on dirt. I’ve always wanted to see if I could drive a Sprint car; I don’t know if I could do it worth a damn but I’d like to give it a try. Chili Bowl is something that has always been on my mind as something to attempt as a bucket list type of deal. I feel like that would be a fun event as everyone that does it has a good time so it’d be fun to do it. I mean, really, anything.
I like to go fast, the competition side of racing, the noise, the smell being at the track – that stuff you get from all forms of motorsports – the rush of the speed, the danger of going those speeds and the smell and the feel – all that stuff is relevant to every form of motorsports, and that’s why I’d give just about anything a try.