By Dustin Albino

When Jeffrey Earnhardt was looking at his options for the 2023 campaign, he wanted to be back in a racecar on a consistent basis. His NASCAR experience was sporadic throughout the 2022 season, competing in just 13 races. 

Earnhardt, now a grizzly veteran who has been chasing relevancy in NASCAR for more than a decade, noticed the speed Alpha Prime Racing displayed throughout last season. He thought it would be a good pairing. 

“We wanted to run the most races we possibly could,” Earnhardt told in an interview at Pocono Raceway. “We wanted to see what it would take to run with Tommy [Joe Martins] because they showed a lot of promise and it should only get better.” 

In its debut season as Alpha Prime, which is a rebrand from Martins Motorsports, the team scored a trio of top-10 finishes in the second half of 2022. Sage Karam delivered the team its first top-five effort at Daytona International Speedway. Stefan Parsons had a standout performance at Bristol Motor Speedway, finishing eighth after running inside of the top 10 for the majority of the evening. 

Earnhardt believed it was the right call to join the team, knowing he had enough funding for 25 races. Should he run well, he believed it would attract additional sponsors to fill out the schedule.

Instead, the season has largely been a disappointment for Earnhardt. He has four top-20 finishes, including his most recent event at Pocono. Potential strong showings at Daytona and Atlanta Motor Speedway went awry while having moments inside the top 10. He was forced into the wall in the season opener, leading to a heated debate in the garage. 

“I would say not good,” Earnhardt said when assessing 2023. “Multiple different reasons: wrecks, part failures, just not having the speed that we feel like we should. 

“It‘s a little frustrating. We keep throwing everything we can at it to try to figure it out and use what we have available for us to find speed. As a whole, I would say, us as a team, are not very pleased with our results this year.”

Martins believes that Alpha Prime can take a lot of the heat. Earnhardt is among his favorite people in the garage to work with, which makes it sting that much more that the team has let the driver down. He‘s changed personnel around within the organization, hoping to see a spark. Simply put, Martins can‘t seem to shake whatever issues the team has been having after it moved to three full-time cars in 2023. 

“He‘s had some of the worst racing luck I‘ve ever seen,” Martins said of Earnhardt. “He had a fast car at Atlanta and cut a tire down; he was put in the wall at Daytona, racing with Parker Kligerman inside the top 10. He‘s had some tough breaks this year, and that combined with some mechanical stuff not going right, it‘s made for a tough season.”

The biggest disappointment Earnhardt believes was missing the inaugural Chicago Street Course event. The team ran a speed they thought would get in the race. By the time it was eclipsed, there wasn‘t enough time for Earnhardt to run another lap.

Compared to even last season, the middle of the Xfinity Series field is a few cars deeper, making it tough for some of the teams that don‘t have alliances with larger organizations or manufacturer support. Alpha Prime falls into that category. 

“You used to be able to run 15th all day, on a good day, with [Alpha Prime], JD Motorsports and now if you run 20th, you did something,” Earnhardt noted. “I think it‘s just a lot of [teams] upping their programs and stepping their games up and building those alliances.”

Martins recalled a time not long ago when he was breaking in as a driver with BJ McLeod Motorsports, where he could manage a top 20 while using scuffed tires and having one pit crew assist mulitple cars. Those days are gone. 

“Without a doubt this is the deepest the series has been in the last 10 years,” Martins said. “We‘ve had some bad luck that‘s put us down in points. Every single week that we get all three of our cars into the race and finish the race is an accomplishment because the series is as tough as it‘s ever been.”

When Earnhardt is experiencing a lull, he thinks back to bright moments, such as finishing third with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He considers his runner-up finish last year in a one-off start with Richard Childress Racing at Talladega Superspeedway with Larry McReynolds as his crew chief to be the highlight of his NASCAR career thus far. To run a RCR car on a superspeedway is a “cheat code,” he said of his late grandfather‘s team owner. 

Earnhardt still hopes to fill out the remainder of the schedule that he won‘t be competing with Alpha Prime this season. He‘s also weighing his options for 2024, as he‘s done part-time rides with bigger teams and seen success. Performing in those key rides has given him some additional longevity in the sport. 

“A deal like that is something that‘s not too unattractive because you‘re out there enough throughout the season that you feel like you‘re getting enough seat time to stay relevant, competitive and be able to run well,” Earnhardt said. 

Earnhardt also believes that running with bigger teams “shows that with the right stuff, you can get it done.” 

Before the 2023 season closes, however, Earnhardt wants to see improvement. He returns to the No. 45 Chevrolet this weekend after coming back from multiple laps down to finish 19th at Pocono. Beginning at the “Tricky Triangle,” he began a fresh outlook for the remainder of the season. 

“To just build speed,” Earnhardt said of what he‘s hoping to accomplish. “Just willing to try new things, and if it doesn‘t work, it doesn‘t work. What we‘re doing now is not cutting it, and we know that and we‘ve got to figure out how to find speed. We‘re going to start throwing everything we can at it and try new stuff to see what we can to find speed because if we come here and it‘s complete trash and doesn‘t work, then so be it. But to come here and run the same that we‘ve been is not good either.” 

Dating back to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Alpha Prime has put at least one entry inside of the top 20 in three consecutive races.

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