Dale Jr., Johnson looking forward to working with Greg Ives in 2015

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Greg Ives won five consecutive Sprint Cup titles as an engineer for Jimmie Johnson and is currently a crew chief in the Nationwide Series.

But when he becomes the big man on the box for Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season, it’ll mark his first run as a crew chief in NASCAR’s top level.

However, both Earnhardt and Johnson believe that Ives will prove that he’s worthy of the opportunity he’s been given.

“We want to try to get better. I think we have in making this decision,” said Earnhardt, who noted that he was happy to not be “in limbo” about who would replace his current crew chief, Steve Letarte, at season’s end.

“I haven’t been able to really talk to the guys yet, but the ones that I have been able to talk with – they feel like that is what we have done. We are going to be a better team for it once we get going next year. I mean, it’s a big relief to get it off my shoulders and not worry about who we are going to be working with.

“What kind of personality he is going to be and whether or not we are going to get along or whether he is going to work and whether the chemistry is going to be good and the cars will be fast – I don’t have to worry about that. I feel good about it.”

Earnhardt also said he was glad that Letarte, Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, and HMS general manager Doug Duchardt all agreed that Ives was the best choice.

“Number one: It was great to hear how confident Rick and Doug and Chad and all them were in this particular choice,” he said. “That gets me excited. I can get right behind that.

“I already know how good Greg is, but just knowing that Chad and everybody believes in that decision and thinks that we will be even better off than we are today.”

As he’ll be working with the 88 camp, Ives will also be seeing a lot of Johnson, Knaus and the 48 crew since the two squads share shop space.

Johnson is hopeful that with Ives on board, the dynamic between the teams will remain solid after Letarte heads over to NBC Sports, where he’ll work as a NASCAR analyst.

“[Ives has] worked very hard to develop as a crew chief and individual,” Johnson said. “He’s been a crew chief on Junior’s Nationwide programs and if you look at his stats and what he’s accomplished there as a crew chief, you can say he has definitely earned this opportunity.

“I’m very happy for Greg and his family and look forward to seeing him more on a daily basis. I went through so many years seeing him all the time and he was such an integral part of finding speed in our race cars, and it’s going to be nice to see him a lot more often now.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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