While last Saturday’s Xfinity Season opener at Daytona marked Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s debut with Joe Gibbs Racing, most of his team’s energy was spent preparing for another race.
The No. 18 team’s main concern entering 2019 was what awaited them in the season’s second race weekend in Atlanta.
“When we started to prepare for this season, we didn’t really focus on Daytona,” Earnhardt said in a media release. “Then we went down there and ran well. We’ve been putting all of our focus into Atlanta from the very start of this.”
In a rather uneventful Daytona race, the grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr. started second and led the first 29 laps before losing the lead on the last lap of Stage 1 to Justin Haley and finishing fourth. He then placed outside the top 10 in Stage 2 and finished 15th in the race, three spots shy of his career-best result.
The 29 laps led were more than in his first 66 Xfinty starts combined.
Now comes Earnhardt’s second of nine Xfinity starts with JGR. He will try to really show off what he’s capable of as a driver on the abrasive 1.54-mile surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“Going into Atlanta, I feel like we’re going to be even better than we were last weekend,” Earnhardt said. “The Gibbs cars ran well in Atlanta last year, but it’s a track where the quality of your equipment really shows and it’s more about the driver than compared to Daytona, which can be a wildcard.”
Earnhardt has two Xfinity starts at Atlanta, but none since 2015. His best result is 25th.
JGR has two Atlanta wins in 43 combined Xfinity starts there. Both victories belong two Kyle Busch (2016-17). Last year JGR had one top five (Christopher Bell, third) and a top 10 (Kyle Benjamin, eighth) while Brandon Jones placed 17th.
“I really feel (Daytona was) just the beginning of what will turn out to be the best season I’ve had in a long time,” Earnhardt said. “As I said, we’ve been working on our Atlanta preparation for a few months now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when we go out and do the same this weekend. I’m looking forward to adding a few more things to the list of career firsts and career highs by the time we leave Georgia.”
Earnhardt’s crew chief, Ben Beshore, called Daytona a “positive” experience for the team but said Atlanta will present “quite a difference” when it comes to team communication.
“There’s a lot more going on,” Beshore said. “You’re not wide open all the way around and you’re not at the mercy of who is pushing you or who is in front of you. Atlanta is a lot more handling focused and Jeffrey is going to be out there by himself to where he controls his own destiny with the feedback he gives to us.
“We’ve done a lot of work on that communication ahead of time so that when we arrive there is already a comfortability level and we’re able to give him the adjustments he needs to keep the iK9 Toyota Supra up front.”