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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