JR Motorsports general manager and co-owner Kelley Earnhardt announced Tuesday that the team has released 25-year-old Kelly Bires from his contractual driving duties of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Cup Series regular Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, has agreed to a deal that puts him in the No. 88 for nine races. Those races include the six upcoming Nationwide Series events – Texas (April 17), Talladega (April 24), Richmond (April 30), Darlington (May 7), Dover (May 15) and Charlotte (May 30) – plus Chicagoland (July 9), Atlanta (Sept. 4) and the return trip to Charlotte (Oct. 15).
This year's Daytona 500 winner McMurray is a seven-time winner in the Nationwide Series with 27 top-fives, 59 top-10s, and three poles. No driver decisions for the No. 88 have been determined beyond McMurray's nine races.
"We are extremely appreciative of Kelly Bires and wish him the best," Earnhardt said. "Internally, it was evident the chemistry that is imperative for us to succeed in this highly competitive industry was simply not there. That is the fault of no one person. We owe it to our fans and sponsors to make necessary adjustments in an effort to put our best product on the track, and we'll continue evaluating our progress until we are confident that our full potential is being reached."
Under the direction of crew chief Tony Eury Sr., the No. 88 team has finished third in the Nationwide Series point standings each of the past two seasons with driver Brad Keselowski, accumulating six total victories. In six races this season, the team has one top-10 finish. Bires competed in six races for JRM dating to this past November at Homestead. He raced the No. 88 in five of the six Nationwide Series events this year, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving the season opener at Daytona.
"In this business, with the way the sponsorships are going and the way the business is going, sometimes you have to make these tough decisions and it's no different for us," Earnhardt told Sirius NASCAR Radio on Tuesday. "It's never something that's easy to do. ... it just wasn't working out for us and that's extremely important to have all of the pieces of the puzzle together."
Bires finished seventh in his season debut at Fontana and, after crashing five laps in at Las Vegas (42nd), had back-to-back top 15s before running 17th at Phoenix. Yet Earnhardt said the change wasn't made solely to appease sponsors.
"No, I don't want to pin this on our sponsors at all. They did not specifically ask for a change. This was a call more from internally here at JR Motorsports with our ownership group and myself and Tony Jr. and Mr. Hendrick and Dale," Earnhardt said. "We are a competitive, good team. We're a top-five running team and that's what we sell our sponsorship on. So we want to keep ourselves in that position so that we don't have sponsorships that are in jeopardy.
"In this case, Hellman's, they are a great partner with us. They do a lot of their marketing around Dale Jr. with our No. 88 car. And it's not necessarily driven by the driver in that car, per say, but it's important to them to have the performance on the racetrack and have our car up front so, it's part of it."
While it remains a possibility, Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't expected to pick up additional races in the No. 88 car.
"Well, that's usually our last resort. He's in the car for us a few more times this year. We try not to make that our first request. I know if we were in a pinch he would do it but we like for him to be able to concentrate on his Cup situation," Kelley Earnhardt said. "I know there are guys out there who do it and run both the Nationwide Series and the Cup Series but they run back and forth from car to car and back and forth from this and that. And with Dale's team this year way more consistent on the Cup side we'd like for him to just be able to continue his concentration there and not really have to worry about being in our Nationwide car. But he'd definitely do it if we were in a bind."
The alteration to the No. 88 team does not change plans for the No. 7 team, which presently is to run the full Nationwide Series schedule with multiple drivers. Landon Cassill began a part-time stint last weekend at Phoenix, becoming the third driver this season to get behind the wheel of the No. 7 prepared by crew chief and co-owner Tony Eury Jr. Cassill will race the car this weekend at Texas.
Danica Patrick has 10 of her scheduled 13 races remaining on the 2010 slate. Scott Wimmer recently completed a two-race commitment and posted season-best finishes of 10th at Bristol and seventh at Nashville. Driving vacancies left on the No. 7 schedule are still to be determined.