Within an hour of Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement that Greg Ives (pictured, right) would become the new crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting in next year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup season, he was trending on Twitter in the United States.
That’s the thing about NASCAR’s most popular driver: Whatever happens with him is going to have a big spotlight on it.
And Ives will have to show that he can handle the heat.
This will probably be the biggest test for Ives when he moves over to the No. 88 from his current duties at JR Motorsports shepherding young Nationwide Series phenom Chase Elliott.
As an engineer for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team during its five-year run of Sprint Cup titles from 2006-2010, Ives had to help keep one of the most impressive dynasties in NASCAR history on top, again and again.
And right now, he’s bringing along a young driver that could become one of NASCAR’s biggest faces over the next 10-20 years.
So, Ives is used to pressure. And winning. But what awaits him in 2015 is a different kind of pressure.
While Ives should get along well with Earnhardt as they’re familiar with each other through their work at JRM, Ives will have to deal with an amount of attention that dwarfs anything he’s ever encountered.
All of his decisions – especially the ones that may backfire on the 88 – will be open to nitpicking, dissecting, and second-guessing from an insanely rabid fan base and a media contingent that stretches beyond the racing world because of Earnhardt’s presence.
The level of scrutiny will be far, far, far above what he gets at this point in the Nationwide Series. Even in his current position of guiding a potential future superstar like Elliott, the difference might as well be night and day.
But for Ives, it will be essential to block out all that noise in order to carry out his most important task: Continue the upward trajectory Earnhardt’s been on since last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and help him finally join his late father as a Sprint Cup champion.