Dale Earnhardt Jr. ready for new crew chief Greg Ives to take him to the next level

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It’s odd how sometimes the best person for a job is literally right in front of you – only you don’t realize it right away.

Such was the case with Greg Ives, who was right under Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s nose the whole time Junior sought a crew chief to replace Steve Letarte.

Ives, crew chief for Chase Elliott’s Xfinity championship last season for JR Motorsports, has an attention to detail that sets him apart from most other crew chiefs.

“You always want to improve a position with a stronger guy,” Earnhardt said during Thursday’s final day of the NASCAR media tour in Charlotte.

Earnhardt was faced with the predicament when Letarte announced prior to last season he would be leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 2014 to become an analyst for NASCAR on NBC and NASCAR America.

Junior recalls the conversation as if it were yesterday:

“I looked him in the face and I told Steve before he left last year, I said, ‘You’re responsible for putting me in an even better situation than I am right now. I want to get better at this position you’re in. I don’t want a lateral move. I don’t want to drop down and wait for a guy to develop.’

“We didn’t even know Greg was an opportunity at that time. I told Steve to comb the sport to give me some names of some guys that can make me better. Greg’s name came up … and Steve said, ‘That’s the top guy. If he’s available, he’s at the top of the list.’”

While some critics might ask why Earnhardt didn’t pick a crew chief with significant Sprint Cup experience, Earnhardt is confident in Ives.

“I don’t think it’s a step back, I think it’s a step forward,” Earnhardt said. “This is a guy that engineered Jimmie (Johnson) to five championships, won the Nationwide Series championship last year, almost won it with Regan (Smith) the year before. Basically, in more than 50 percent of the years he’s been in the sport, he’s won a championship.”

But what makes Earnhardt feel Ives will be successful is how he goes about doing his job.

“One of the things I learned about him, which I already kind of knew, is that he’s a real detail kind of guy,” Earnhardt said. “I asked him about the Daytona car and he ran down this list of about 50 things, the most particular, peculiar, tiny things that he’s concerned with. When you ask him something, he’s going to give you the full rundown.

“He’s a details guy. You know that’s going to be a positive going into the relationship, that he’s that particular. You want a guy who’s a perfectionist, and yet there’s crew chiefs out there that don’t cover every single base.

“Regan was so impressed with him and said I was just going to love it, and I can see that already – and we haven’t even gotten to the racetrack yet. Once we get to the track and we’re at practice and going through that process, the reassurance I’m going to feel knowing he’s in control of everything is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

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New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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