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

Leave a comment

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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing at Barber

SPOTTER GUIDE: All 29 of this weekend’s paint schemes

IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”