Greg Ives to become crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season

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Hendrick Motorsports has announced that Greg Ives will take over as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team beginning next season, replacing the NBC Sports-bound Steve Letarte.

Ives currently serves as crew chief for Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott on the No. 9 JR Motorsports team. He also worked as a race engineer for HMS’ No. 48 Sprint Cup team during Jimmie Johnson’s run of five consecutive Cup championships from 2006-2010.

“This is an incredible opportunity for me and my family,” Ives said in a team release. “Dale Jr. and I have a great relationship from being in the same shop at Hendrick Motorsports and my time at JRM.

“We have a lot left to do this season in the Nationwide Series, but I’m excited about what’s ahead and look forward to sharing some wins with JR Nation in the future. I couldn’t ask for a better situation than working with one of the best drivers and teams in racing.”

Ives will work directly with No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus in the same shop that the 48 and 88 teams share. Before joining JRM late in 2012, Ives and Knaus collaborated on 42 Sprint Cup wins over a seven-year span.

In his own comments, HMS team owner Rick Hendrick indicated that Ives’ familiarity with Earnhardt (who co-owns JRM with Hendrick) and Knaus was critical to him getting the nod.

“Greg was our number-one choice,” Hendrick said. “This is a talented guy who already has a terrific rapport with Dale Jr. and is a fit with the organization.

“He and Chad had a lot of success together, and all of our crew chiefs think the world of him and what he’s accomplished. Greg’s proven that he can win races, and he has all the tools to do big things.”

In 2013, Ives guided JRM’s Regan Smith to a pair of wins (Talladega, Michigan) and a third-place finish in the Nationwide Series standings before moving over to work with Elliott, the 18-year-old son of former Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott.

So far this season, Ives and Elliott have put up impressive results in Nationwide with three wins (Texas, Darlington, Chicagoland), eight Top-5s and 13 Top-10s. Going into Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway, Elliott holds a four point lead over Smith in that series’ championship.

Elliott has tweeted his congratulations to Ives on his new opportunity:

As for Earnhardt, he hailed Ives as “a strong leader with a cool personality” and a competitive streak that matches his own.

“It was important to find someone who would fit at Hendrick Motorsports and inside our shop, and he will for sure do that,” said NASCAR’s most popular driver. “We got the best guy for the job, and I look forward to working with him next year.

“From a JR Motorsports perspective, I’m extremely proud of how this worked out. Since the end of 2012, we’ve focused on JRM and Hendrick Motorsports working together as closely as possible and developing talented people for the next level. This is a perfect example of that happening the way we hoped it would.”

Earnhardt later tweeted that he and his team “couldn’t be more excited” about Ives coming on board next year, but also stressed that there’s still lots of racing to do this year.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.