CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expanding his role as a car owner, announcing plans Tuesday to field a team in the Busch Series next season.

JR Motorsports, the business Earnhardt owns independently of all his other ventures, will run Mark McFarland in the No. 88 Chevrolet. The U.S. Navy will sponsor the team.

“When I started JR Motorsports, I didn’t have a vision or a dream or a five-year plan,” Earnhardt said. “We have basically let this thing grow legs on its own.” The team debuted in the Hooters Pro Cup Series this season, with McFarland earning one win and 10 top 10 finishes in 13 starts. It’s a separate entity from Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team Earnhardt drives for but is owned by his stepmother, Teresa. It also has no relation to Chance 2 Motorsports, a Busch Series team Earnhardt co-owns with his stepmother. Martin Truex Jr. won the Busch Series title in that car last season and is currently first in the points standings this year.

Earnhardt said he wants DEI involved with his new team, but currently has no firm agreement. He was also vague on whether or not DEI will provide him with engines for his Busch car.

“It is very important that DEI is incorporated,” he said. “This isn’t separate. It’s my own company, but I want it to benefit DEI. They can be a big part of this and they can support us and we can be successful.”

Sponsorship from the Navy is not a huge stretch for Earnhardt, a driver with a hard-partying reputation.

On the Navy side, there is no bigger driver it could have chosen to use in recruitment campaign. And Earnhardt points to his experiences as a high schooler attending military school for his appreciation of the armed services.

“I look at my experience in military school as a big change in my life,” he said. “It got rid of the rough edges and put me on a straighter path.”

Earnhardt said he has approached Tony Eury Sr., currently director of competition at DEI, to run his new Busch program. Eury, who is also Earnhardt’s uncle, was Earnhardt’s crew chief when he won his two Busch titles and for the first four seasons of his Cup career.

“Pops won’t decide,” Earnhardt said. “He’s been at DEI a long time so it’s hard for him to just up and leave. But at the same time he wants me to succeed with this, so it’s hard for him to decide what he wants to do.”

Meanwhile, Earnhardt said that since Truex is moving to the Cup series next season, Chance 2 will likely scale back to a part-time Busch schedule next year.

“We just haven’t found anything that has captured our heart the way Martin did,” he said.

AP-ES-08-23-05 1447EDT

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