Three new pit crew members, car chief named to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 team

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Even before the first green flag has fallen for the start of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, this has already become a year of significant change for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Not only does the defending Daytona 500 winner have a new primary sponsor on his No. 88 Sprint Cup car in Nationwide Insurance, he also has a new crew chief, Greg Ives.

Ives, who led Chase Elliott to last season’s Nationwide Series championship, replaces Steve Letarte, who left Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 2014 to join NASCAR on NBC and NBCSN’s NASCAR America as an analyst.

Now comes word that half of Earnhardt’s six-man pit crew on the No. 88 for the 2015 Sprint Cup season will also be new.

According to Fox Sports, added to the No. 88 lineup are front tire changer and front tire carrier David Mayo and Dustin Lineback, as well as rear tire carrier William “Rowdy” Harrell.

Mayo, Lineback and Harrell are not entirely strangers to working for Earnhardt or HMS:

* Mayo spent the last two seasons serving as backup tire changer for both Earnhardt and HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson’s team.

* Lineback has likewise served in a backup/reserve role in the past as both a tire carrier and gas man for Junior and Johnson. He returns to HMS after fueling Justin Allgaier’s No. 51 Sprint Cup ride in 2014.

* Harrell was part of the HMS pit crew developmental program and was promoted to a backup/reserve role for both Earnhardt’s and Johnson’s teams at the end of last season, according to Fox Sports.

The new pit crew members replace three others – tire carriers Kevin Harris and Matt Ver Meer, and front tire changer Clay Robinson – who left HMS at the end of last season to work on Carl Edwards’ pit crew this season for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The new trio on the No. 88 will join returning pit crew members Nick Covey (jackman), Joe Slingerland (rear tire changer) and Matt Tyrrell (gas man).

One other addition/change was also announced for Earnhardt’s team: Travis Mack will become car chief on the No. 88, replacing Jason Burdett, who will serve as crew chief for JR Motorsports’ Regan Smith in the Xfinity Series in 2015.

Mack was previously car chief at JR Motorsports for Smith in 2013 and last season with Elliott.

Returning to the No. 88 is a homecoming of sorts for Mack, who previously worked as a mechanic on Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup team before moving to JRM.

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April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994