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

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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.”