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Pieces falling into place for JR Motorsports for 2011 Nationwide Series season

By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

BRISTOL, Tenn. — With the signing of Aric Almirola to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet next season JR Motorsports’ NASCAR Nationwide Series program is coming sharply into focus.

Team co-owner Kelley Earnhardt said the team is close to filling out sponsorship for the No. 88 and will determine Danica Patrick’s races in the No. 7 Chevy after the IndyCar Series releases its schedule. Patrick is slated to drive approximately 13 races for JRM next year.

"We’re very close to wrapping up the sponsorship on the 88," Earnhardt said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "It looks like we’ll definitely have GT Vodka back on board for a 15-race program. Our Unilever folks, we’re real close with them on about 12 to 15 races. That will leave us short four or six or eight, however the math works out on the 88. We’ve still got time to put stuff together for that car."

Almirola, who had a brief stint in the Sprint Cup Series, sharing a ride in the No. 8 Chevrolet with Mark Martin at Dale Earnhardt Inc., jumped at the chance to drive for JRM.

"It was really easy for me," Almirola said. "I had several other opportunities, but this was the opportunity that I looked at that I felt like, being 26 years old, I could wait a few more years before going to Cup and still be OK.

"I felt like this was the place where I needed to be to be able to prove that I can win races and run for a championship at the next level. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that this year (in the Camping World Truck Series), and I didn’t want to go too fast, too quick and end up like I was a couple years ago (without a full-time ride)."

Earnhardt acknowledged that Patrick has had difficulty getting up to speed in her six Nationwide starts to date.

"I think she’s definitely had a difficult year getting used to these cars from where she’s came from (IndyCars)," Earnhardt said. "I think still everyone has to keep in (mind) that she’s ran six Nationwide races and pretty much six stock car races in her career. She’s still very fresh and new at this and still has a lot to learn about the way these cars work."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will compete approximately six times in the No. 7 car next years. The allocation of the rest of the races is a work in progress, but Kelley Earnhardt said the organization has been pleased with the performance of Josh Wise in recent races.

"Josh has done very well for us and kept the car in the top 20 of the owner’s points and hasn’t put a scratch on our car, that I can recall," she said.