NNS: Ernie Cope’s in as Chase Elliott’s new crew chief in 2015

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With Greg Ives becoming Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s new crew chief next season at Hendrick Motorsports, that left the 2015 CC position open for Nationwide Series star Chase Elliott and the No. 9 JR Motorsports team.

But as of today, that position has been filled.

Ernie Cope (pictured, right, with Elliott), the current CC of JRM’s part-time No. 5 entry, has been announced as the new CC for Elliott and the No. 9 camp.

Both Ives and Cope will finish out the 2014 season in their current roles.

“It became clear rather quickly that the absolute best option for Chase and the NAPA team next year is already in this building,” said JRM general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller in a team release.

“Ernie builds fast cars, has a good rapport with Chase, and is familiar with the inner-workings of our company. Hopefully, that will create a seamless transition at the end of the year, and the No. 9 team will continue its championship form right into 2015.”

With more than a decade of experience as a CC, Cope joined JRM before the 2014 season to lead the No. 5 team, where driver duties are split primarily between team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne.

Under Cope’s guidance, the No. 5 has won three Nationwide events so far this year – Richmond and Kentucky with Harvick, and then Daytona with Kahne.

Cope indicated that the opportunity to run a full-time schedule and compete for the Nationwide Series championship appealed to him in his decision to take the No. 9 job.

“Kevin and I have enjoyed a lot of success, and we’re not done yet,” he said in the same release. “There is a lot of racing left this year, but in putting the pieces together for 2015, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete the full race schedule.

“I’ve been able to do that only once, and that was in 2011 with Elliott Sadler when we finished second in the championship. I’d like another shot at it, and Chase Elliott is an extremely talented race car driver.”

Elliott currently leads the Nationwide Series standings by 10 points over JRM teammate Regan Smith heading into Friday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Recently, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said that he expects to see Elliott run some Sprint Cup races during the second half of next season.

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500