Cole Whitt is joining JR Motorsports as a full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series driver for the 2012 season.
Whitt, 20, was named as the driver of the organization’s No. 88 entry on Wednesday. The 20-year-old will replace Aric Almirola, who finished fourth in the series standings in 2011 and confirmed Wednesday that he was moving to the Sprint Cup Series with Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2012 season.
“Cole is the guy we wanted, and we’re lucky to get him,” team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “He’s got raw, untapped talent, but we are most impressed with his ambition. I sought advice and input from people I respect in the industry, and the overwhelming consensus was that Cole has the potential to do great things in this sport.”
Whitt competed full time in the Camping World Truck Series in 2011, finishing ninth overall in the series standings after earning 11 top-10 finishes, two of them top fives. Overall, he has two Sprint Cup starts, three Nationwide series starts and 26 Truck races to his credit. He will compete for the Sunoco Rookie title and Nationwide Series championship, racing as a teammate to Danica Patrick, who will also be running her first full season in the series.
“This is a big opportunity for me, and I’m happy to be a part of the JR Motorsports team,” said Whitt, who was introduced to employees Wednesday morning. “I’m grateful to Dale, Kelley (Earnhardt) and everyone at JR Motorsports for giving me this chance. It’s an honor to work with the Eurys, and I will do everything in my power to put this No. 88 team where it belongs in Victory Lane.”
Earnhardt Jr. will also race in select races for the organization, driving the No. 5 Chevrolet. All three drivers will compete in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 25. Bruce Cook will work as crew chief for the No. 5 team, which will run primarily with Earnhardt Jr. in select races. Cook comes to JR Motorsports from Kevin Harvick Inc., where he served as crew chief in 2011 in the Camping World Truck Series, predominately for the No. 2 KHI Chevrolet, which won the owner’s championship. Cook was also the winning crew chief of the Nationwide Series season-opener at Daytona in 2011 with driver Tony Stewart.