By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
CONCORD, N.C. – A hometown race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will carry extra meaning for Jeffrey Earnhardt and his sponsor iK9.
In the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300, Earnhardt’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra will carry a memorial paint scheme for Mooresville Police Department’s Officer Jordan Sheldon. iK9, the primary sponsor has chosen to honor the life and service of the K9 Officer.
Officer Sheldon lost his life in the line of duty on May 4 during a routine traffic stop. Other teams including Stewart-Haas Racing and Hattori Racing Enterprises have since ran various decals and tributes on their vehicles to honor Sheldon’s sacrifice. Officer Sheldon and his K9 Ramon trained at iK9’s facilities.
“Charlotte race weekend is always special, but this race will have a different feeling to it,” said Earnhardt. “There are no words to describe how thankful I am for the opportunity to pay tribute to Officer Sheldon and Ramon.
“As a Mooresville native, it means so much to honor a man who put his life on the line to protect our community and I appreciate everything that iK9, Xtreme Concepts and Toyota have done to make this possible. Hopefully we can give Officer Sheldon’s friends and family a weekend to remember.”
A Charlotte, N.C. native, Officer Sheldon joined the Mooresville Police Department in 2013. Appointed to the K9 unit in 2015, he worked with K9 Loki until Loki’s retirement. Officer Sheldon then began working with K9 Ramon and formed a partnership with iK9.
“It’s terrible anytime we lose someone who has given their life to serve and protect our communities or country, but it’s extremely personal for us anytime we lose someone who has completed our program,” said Landon Ash, founder of Birmingham, Alabama-based Xtreme Concepts, the parent company of iK9.
“Spending weeks together training, we develop bonds with those who work hard and excel through the training programs we offer. Officer Sheldon’s class from Mooresville was one of those exceptional classes that we’re often reminded of, and his passing has left our organization deeply saddened.
“Our hearts and condolences go out to his family, friends and co-workers at the Mooresville Police Department. We’re proud to honor his memory and service.”
Despite a part-time schedule, Earnhardt has earned two top-10s in four starts. One of those top-10s came with Xtreme Concepts, Inc. Racing, in the team’s debut at Texas Motor Speedway. Earnhardt earned his best career finish, sixth, with Joe Gibbs Racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“The start of this season has really been a learning opportunity for me and a chance to get a better understanding of the JGR Xfinity program,” Earnhardt explained. “It’s easy to run up front when you’re in the best equipment out there, but there are 30 other cars out on track and you can’t control what they do, so we have to be on our game the whole time and know that we’re making the right calls for ourselves.”
Earnhardt has competed in five Xfinity races at the 1.5-mile track. The Mooresville, N.C. native’s best finish at his home track is 25th in 2014. Earnhardt also has five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts on the oval configuration with a best finish of 26th.
“I think we’re at a good point now to say that we can contend for wins,” Earnhardt believed. “We’ve been to each type of track now with the exception of a road course, so we have plenty of info we can add to the playbook the team already has from their past success.
“I feel like we’re close, but there is always something to work on. We’ll go to Charlotte, qualify well and run up front. The next piece of the puzzle is to finish the job, and we’ve got a group of guys capable of that on this iK9 Toyota team.”
Earnhardt looks to earn his first top-five finish in the Xfinity Series. He was 18th and 17th in the two respective practice sessions.
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) May 23, 2019