Kelley Earnhardt Miller: Big sister, big boss for Dale Earnhardt Jr.


She’s the big sister who’s now the big boss.

Kelley Earnhardt Miller sits at the top of the organizational pyramid of JR Motorsports, one of NASCAR’s spotlighted operations. As chief executive officer of the web of companies owned or partially owned by retired driver and auto racing guru Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley has her hands in virtually everything Junior-related. And that’s a lot.

And it seems it has been this way most of forever.

Earnhardt Miller has been beside her famous brother for most of their lives. They watched television together in a house that later burned. They marched together at military school. They experienced the anguish of losing their father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., in a very public tragedy, and they were together in the struggle to piece together their futures after conflict with their stepmother.

Now, with the siblings owning an Xfinity Series team that draws almost as much attention as leading Cup Series organizations, Earnhardt Miller is front and center, turning the wheels that make JR Motorsports – and Junior’s other enterprises – go.

In September she was named chief executive officer over Junior’s companies, which include the race team, DEJ Management (brand marketing and business) and Dirty Mo Media (multi-media and digital content platform).

It’s not easy being Junior. Earnhardt Miller irons out the rough spots, as she has since both were teenagers.

Now she is 50 and Earnhardt Jr. is 48. Their lives have been laced with success and sorrow, and they still aim high. It’s likely that the vast majority of Dale Jr. fans – and there are millions – long for the day when the team will move up to Cup racing, where Junior and his father made their names. The team wants that, too, and soon, Earnhardt Miller says, but the dollars must make sense.

“We’re constantly talking about it,” she told NBC Sports. “Obviously, there’s a lot to learn about what it means to go Cup racing, especially under the charter situation. The charter and the new car are supposed to change the dynamics on the costs, but I think the jury is still out on that. We’re still working through all that.”

Garage-area estimates put the cost of a Cup charter, which provides a starting spot in all Cup point races, at between $20 million and $30 million, and that’s before adding personnel and equipment to make the move. The costs and many other issues, including one that might be surprising, must be addressed, Earnhardt Miller said.

“I’m 50,” she said. “I don’t want to do this forever. It’s a big investment to figure out how you make that work over the long haul. Do our families want to remain in racing? Do our kids want to take this on? Am I going to be 70 and doing this?

“I think people forget about this. It sounds great to go Cup racing, but there’s a life cycle you’re trying to fit into. I want to relax at some point in my life. I want to have grandkids and go to the cabin and do stuff like that.”

So to make Cup racing work in the context of Earnhardt Miller and Earnhardt Jr. enjoying the fruits of their labor, the calendar would seem to force them to make a move sooner rather than later. The earliest, she said, would be 2024.

“The main holdup for us is the charter,” she said. “Is one available? What’s the price? Does it make sense? You can’t do certain things, like go after major sponsors, without a charter. And they’re probably only going to go up in price. As far as us trying to get in, the sooner the better.”

Rick Hendrick, who is part owner of JRM, endorses the idea of the team moving up to Cup, a plan which would require him to divest himself from ownership.

“I think long-term they want to be owners in the Cup Series, and I’ll support them any way I can,” Hendrick said. “We’ll have an alliance with them, but I’ll have to divest my interest there, and that’s okay because I think it’s served its purpose in Xfinity races. If they move up into Cup, then I’m ready to step out and help out any way I can.”

Asked why JRM should be in Cup, Hendrick said, “Just because of their name and heritage. I believe that it would be good for the sport to have an Earnhardt owner in the Cup Series.”

Although her brother, as the son of one of racing’s all-time greats, has naturally been a target of fan interest since he raced as a teenager, Earnhardt Miller also has had racing ties for decades. She raced Late Models for several years and was often at race tracks when she wasn’t driving.

As a teenager, Kelley Earnhardt Miller raced late models with her brothers (JR Motorsports photo)

While earning a degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and in the years after her 1995 graduation, she worked in motorsports marketing.

Dale Earnhardt and his wife, Brenda (the mother of Dale Jr. and Kelley), divorced, and the children moved in with their father when their mother’s house burned. That was the first of many hurdles the Earnhardt kids would face. Dale Sr. was a no-nonsense father, Earnhardt Miller said, and his eventual marriage to Teresa Houston complicated matters within the household.

When Earnhardt Sr. was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the family dynamic changed dramatically again. Dale Jr. was two years into his Cup career at that point, and the weight of the world dropped onto his shoulders as he became the focal point of a seemingly ever-expanding national matrix of grief.

Earnhardt’s widow moved into a key leadership role at Dale Earnhardt Inc., Senior’s racing team and Junior’s racing home, and that resulted in a difficult relationship between Teresa and the Earnhardt children. During 2001, Earnhardt Miller began working full-time on her brother’s racing and marketing interests, and it became clear over the next few years that a split between the children and Teresa Earnhardt was likely. The final separation occurred in 2008 as Junior left DEI to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.

Along that rough road, Earnhardt Miller returned to the “big sister” role she had known as a teenager, when she went so far as to voluntarily enroll in military school alongside Dale Jr. after their father decided his son needed more discipline in his life.

“We were never into drugs or alcohol or sneaking out of the house,” Earnhardt Miller said. “It was simply not following the rules. When Dad made the rules, they were the rules. There was a time after he and Teresa got married. We had a new mom, and there were a lot of changes and all these rules.

“I just did what I was supposed to do – kept my room clean, emptied the dishwasher, simple things. You didn’t get, ‘Oh, I’m so proud of you,’ from anybody, but you didn’t get in trouble. Dale was the opposite. He was all over getting in trouble.

“Military school was hard. Dale would tell you he hated it. I don’t remember hating it. I was just kind of the person who did what you were told. I think Dale probably thinks it was good for him, but it really hurt his relationship with Dad.”

Kelley Earnhardt Miller and her husband, L.W. Miller, celebrate Dale Jr.’s 2014 Daytona 500 win (JR Motorsports photo)

There was no grand plan for the brother and sister to be forever linked in the racing world, but that scenario began to come into focus after Earnhardt Sr.’s death.

“It was my dad’s death that put me in place to take the role I did with Dale,” Earnhardt Miller said. “As the big sister, I was always there from the standpoint of our parents getting divorced early and the house fire and losing our mom and losing our dad. I kind of always had the caretaker role through the changes we had. I went off to work in licensing and doing other stuff, but my dad’s death kind of catapulted me into coming to work for Dale six months later and running his business.”

Junior’s personality didn’t push him to be at the forefront of all the changes that would occur. Much of that fell in the lap of the big sister.

“I think of it like I was in survivor mode with all that was thrown my way,” she said. “I did it. I think that different people are wired to handle that. Dale would just turn inward. He didn’t really exhibit that ‘survive and thrive’ mode when we were younger.”

None of the moves was easy as Dale Jr. and Kelley worked through the intricacies of separating themselves from DEI and the world their dad had made.

“I was wanting to figure out what parts and pieces of Dale that we wanted to control while working with the people at DEI,” Earnhardt Miller said. “A lot of the transition was about finding that voice and standing up for Dale and his business and what we were trying to do. We were working alongside people at DEI that everyone knew my dad trusted. They were caught in a unique situation and trying to do what they thought my dad would want done versus maybe how Teresa was wanting things done.

“A lot of different things were happening during that time. It finally got to the point that we had to make the decision to leave.”

Kelley Earnhardt Miller has helped build JR Motorsports into one of the elite teams in the Xfinity Series. (JR Motorsports photo)

Ultimately, that decision built a NASCAR Xfinity Series team that is among stock car racing’s finest and led Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a journey to wealth and prominence.

JRM will have three cars in the Xfinity Series Championship 4 Saturday at Phoenix Raceway (6 p.m. ET on USA Network). Noah Gragson and Josh Berry qualified for the final four at Phoenix with race wins, and Justin Allgaier qualified on points Saturday at Martinsville Speedway. Ty Gibbs is the only non-JRM driver in the Phoenix finale.

Gragson, who is moving up to the Cup Series with the Petty GMS team next year, has been a project for JRM and Earnhardt Miller. Owner of a quirky personality, Gragson has had growing pains on the way to establishing himself as a reliable winner in NASCAR’s No. 2 series, and Earnhardt Miller has been there to continue her “big sister” role for another up-and-coming driver.

“He came in as a teenager and was immature,” Earnhardt Miller said. “He can still be immature. He came into the situation here not real worldly in terms of knowing things about the world and how to live in it and be in it.

“I’ve always been the mother hen person for everybody here, especially when you have 18-year-old drivers. You can’t be anything else. The best thing about Noah is that he’s receptive to learning and growing. He loves attention, but once he starts to trust someone and sees they appreciate him, he really responds. He’s come a long way in terms of understanding what makes this whole show go around — how you show appreciation to people, what does teamwork look like, all those kinds of things.”

She said Gragson’s growth is evident in the team’s record this year — eight wins (no one else has more than six) and a dominant presence on the track virtually every week.

“He gets attention by being silly and funny,” she said. “He’s being himself and having fun. And you see the camaraderie with his team. Their relationship is special — how they have each others’ backs.”

All that may lead to another Xfinity championship.

The racing world waits to see where big sis and little brother go next.





Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s new Cup Series aerodynamic package for short tracks and road courses will be tested in competition on a road circuit for the first time this weekend as the tour stops at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

All three major national series will be in action at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn track this weekend. The schedule begins Friday with practice for all three series and qualifying for Xfinity and Trucks.

MORE: Drivers say North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will be challenging

The Friday practice was added for Cup teams because of the new competition package, providing 50 minutes of on-track time for adjustments. Teams also will be racing with a new tire compound this weekend.

Chase Elliott (2021) and Ross Chastain (2022) are winners from the previous Cup races at COTA. Elliott won the inaugural event in a race shortened by rain, and Chastain won after a last-lap battle with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. The victory was Chastain’s first in the series.

A look at Friday’s schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning. Mostly sunny later. High of 87 with an 80% chance of rain.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Friday 5: What to do about lack of respect on the track?


It’s no surprise that a lack of respect among drivers was brought up, as Kyle Busch did last week, with the changes NASCAR has enacted in recent years.

With a win earning a driver a playoff spot, the equality of the cars, the importance of track position and stage points awarded, there’s a greater emphasis on running toward the front.

For some, lose enough positions and they can lose their rides. For others, give up a few points and that might be what keeps them from advancing in the playoffs.

All that makes each lap more meaningful. That elevates the tension in the garage and the lack of patience on the track.

But how much longer should NASCAR allow the lack of respect continue before series officials intercede? How should they do so? When should they let drivers handle matters?

“It’s as simple as what does NASCAR want,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said in the video above. “If they want cleaner racing, if they want more respect, then I feel they now have an opportunity to now jump into the ring of refereeing these races. Whether they want to do that or not, we will see.”

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said that series officials viewed Denny Hamlin’s incident with Ross Chastain on the last lap at Phoenix as a “racing incident” until Hamlin stated on his podcast the next day he meant to do so.

NASCAR fined Hamlin 25 points and $50,000 for his actions. Hamlin is appealing.

NASCAR did nothing when Hamlin forced Chastain up the track and into the wall racing for the lead at Pocono last summer. Chastain’s car came down the track and was hit by Kevin Harvick’s car as Harvick ran fourth.

Asked about how much it bothered him that the feud between Hamlin and Chastain could impact him, Busch said: “It almost did last year when Denny did it at Pocono. It about caught us in it, but we were able to sneak through.

When it comes to the time it starts affecting other people’s races and such, again, I think it leaves the door open for you to go punch somebody in the face.”

Harvick didn’t punch anyone but he responded after that incident at Pocono.

“I voiced my opinion to the driver I was unhappy with,” Harvick said of that situation. “I did that privately and that’s the way I chose to handle it.”

Daniel Suarez, who is in his seventh season in Cup, has seen a difference in how drivers treat each other over his time in the series.

“I remember my first year in Cup,” Suarez said. “I remember drivers, we used to give the finger — not the middle finger — but the finger of, ‘Hey, you go ahead, you’re better than me right now.’

“You don’t see that anymore. Track position is so important. It’s so difficult to pass. I feel like it’s a combination of all those things, and I think that has made people not to respect each other.

“If you are a couple of tenths (of a second) faster than me and you’re catching me, I’m going to block you instead of letting you go. Those are things that we look like a**holes out there, but that’s what we have to do to keep track position and try to get some stage points.”

The emotions are building throughout the field.

“I see the frustration from some guys who probably race similar to me and feel like they get run over, there’s a handful of guys in the field that feel like that,” Erik Jones said. “It’s tough. It’s a tough balance.

“At some point, you’ve got to stand your ground and say you’re not going to take it anymore.”

That’s why NASCAR may need to play a bigger role in such situations.

“The drivers aren’t going to change,” Letarte said. “You can throw that out. If you think this is going to be changed from behind the steering wheel, you haven’t met enough race car drivers. … Some outside source, in my opinion, is going to have to change this mantra or opinion of what is acceptable on the racetrack.”

Harvick said he would be good with more from NASCAR on the matter. And he knows from first-hand experience.

“I like the iron fish,” Harvick said. “I think it’s important to have those guys (feuding) sit in the same room when you have instances like we’ve had several times.

“I think the important part of that process is to make them sit face-to-face, that was always the most effective for me, and have questions asked by whoever the leader is, in my case, it was Mike Helton, and voice their expectations of how they should handle it between themselves and how they would hope it would not get out of hand and not affect other people. … I’m of the opinion (NASCAR) should at least lead conversations in an in-person setting.”

2. Making an impact?

One of the intriguing storylines this weekend at Circuit of the Americas will be how Tyler Reddick and Toyota perform.

Reddick won a series-high two road course races last year (Road America and Indianapolis) in a Chevrolet with Richard Childress Racing, while Toyota struggled.

Toyota’s six drivers combined for an average finish of 20th or worse in four of the six Cup road course events last year. They led only 4.4% of the 529 laps run at those venues a year ago.

Reddick joined 23XI Racing and Toyota ahead of this season. A key question is how much of an impact can he make with Toyota’s road course program.

“I think a driver can come in and make an impact as far as not just on the racetrack, but also the culture,” said Austin Cindric, who drives a Ford for Team Penske. “As far as giving the team confidence, ‘Hey this is a somebody who’s clearly been able to make this work. We have to believe in how far off we are or aren’t.’”

Kaulig Racing ran AJ Allmendinger five of the six road course events in 2021 to develop its Cup program. Allmendinger won at Indianapolis for the Chevrolet team and scored top 10s at COTA and the Daytona road course.

In 2022, the first year of the Next Gen car, Allmendinger ran 18 Cup races, including all six road course events. He finished second at Watkins Glen and had top 10s at the Charlotte Roval, Indianapolis and Road America. He was battling for the win at COTA until contact from Ross Chastain knocked him out of the lead on the final lap.

Allmendinger says Reddick’s experience last year can carry over even with the the change in manufacturer and team.

“The biggest thing is Tyler, he’s got all the talent in the world,” Allmendinger said. “We’ve seen that, and we continually see that. … Winning those races, he can have the feel of the race car.

“He knows going into the racetrack and after a couple of laps like, ‘Hey, this is the feel that I felt last year and what I want.’ If it’s not, he can kind of lead off of what he felt last year and try to at least work toward that.”

Reddick already has run many laps at COTA this year. He was the Toyota driver at a Goodyear tire test there in January.

“Our tire test in January went pretty well,” Reddick said. “We were definitely wanting to make gains, but the knowledge that we gathered from that test gave us some things to work on and work through in the time that we’ve had since that test to when we race this weekend.

“We’re really anxious to see what that all means. We’re glad that we’ve got a 50-minute practice (Friday at COTA) to kind of shake things out. The whole Toyota camp is curious to see how their stuff stacks up and where we can make it better.”

3. No stage breaks

This weekend marks the first Cup race without stage breaks since they were instituted before the 2017 season.

NASCAR will award points for the end of each stage in the Cup, Xfinity and Craftsman Truck races this weekend at COTA, but the race will continue. There will be no caution specifically for the end of the stage.

That could alter strategies. Typically, top teams would pit before the end of the first stage, giving up stage points to get track position after the rest of the field pitted during the stage break. In last year’s six Cup road course races, 48.3% of the top-10 finishers did not score points in either of the first two stages.

“It will definitely change it to where the fast cars are going to score points,” Joey Logano said of the elimination of stage breaks at road courses. “You used to be able to leave a road course and even if you didn’t have a fast car, you could manipulate the stages to where you could have a decent day out of it.

“Now, the fast cars, they’ll score the most points, as it should be.”

At COTA last year, Ryan Blaney scored a race-high 47 points — four more than winner Ross Chastain and runner-up Alex Bowman — despite finishing sixth. The difference was that Blaney scored points in both stages, while Chastain and Bowman scored points in only one stage each.

At Indianapolis, Kyle Busch finished 11th and scored 38 points — two points less than winner Tyler Reddick and fifth-place finisher Bubba Wallace. Busch scored points in both stages, while Wallace scored points in one stage and Reddick did not score points in either stage.

“The road courses have been a big challenge since stage breaks became a thing,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “You kind of either had to pick, ‘Do we want stage points or do you want to go for the win?’

“It was really, really hard, and I think we’ve only seen maybe one instance of somebody getting both. (The rule change) puts strategy back into it. You can play your gameplan. You always always have those cautions that could mix up the strategy, but they’re not planned, so nobody knows when they’re coming, which I think is more exciting.”

4. Star-studded field

Two former world champions, a former IMSA champion and a seven-time Cup champion are among those entered this weekend at COTA.

Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One champion, and 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button are entered. Raikkonen returns to the Project 91 car at Trackhouse Racing that he drove at Watkins Glen last year before he was collected in a crash. He won the 2018 Formula One race at COTA driving for Ferrari. It was his final F1 victory.

Button will drive the No. 15 for Rick Ware Racing in partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing. Button also will drive the Garage 56 NASCAR entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

Ryan Blaney is looking forward to racing those drivers.

“I think it’s great that they want to try to their hand in our sport, two really incredible drivers of their series wanting to try something else,” Blaney told NBC Sports.

“That’s what racers do, right? They go and they want to try other race cars and other tracks and things like that. Those guys are the same way. I think it’s fantastic. I look forward to racing with Kimi again and getting to, hopefully, meet Jenson because I was a big fan of his as a kid.”

Also competing will Jordan Taylor, a multi-time IMSA champion, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and IndyCar driver Conor Daly.

Taylor will drive the No. 9 for Chase Elliott, who continues to recover from a broken leg suffered last month snowboarding. Taylor won the 2013 Grand Am DP title, 2017 IMSA Prototype championship and was the 2020-21 IMSA GTLM champion.

Johnson makes his first start in the No. 84 for Legacy Motor Club, the team he co-owns, since competing in the Daytona 500. Johnson will be a teammate to Button in the Garage 56 NASCAR effort at Le Mans.

“I think he’s going to go through a huge learning curve,” teammate Erik Jones said of Johnson running his first road course race in the Next Gen car. “This car, on the road course, is so different. … He has done a lot of work for this weekend from some schools and some sim stuff.”

Daly also is back with The Money Team Racing since making the Daytona 500.

5. All-Star Race format

The NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway is less than two months away. While no format has been announced for the May 21 event, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick offered their ideas after testing tires there this week.

“Don’t make it a short run,” Dillon said of the race’s final segment. “I think that if you want to see something fun, you’ve got to keep it at least 50 laps or more for that last run. I don’t think we should have short runs.

“If this is a throwback kind of All-Star Race classic, whatever you want to call it, you should have a long run to finish and just let the best car, best driver win it and don’t make it into a 10-lap shootout, wreckfest. You might get one of those, but the real racing here is who can take their stuff and be the one at the end. You might have some guys that struggle at the beginning of the run that finish the run really strong, which is exciting in my mind.”

Said Reddick: “I think after 10 laps, tires are important, probably even sooner than that, honestly. It’s pretty easy to abuse the tires here. I don’t know about format, honestly, but if there’s an opportunity to pit, I think people are going to take it and put tires on.

“I certainly think somewhere in that 50-75 lap range, it will be in the hands of drivers. Who is going to push at the beginning of the run, who is going to take care of their stuff and try to run them back down.”