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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”