There was no shortage of candidates to replace Steve Letarte as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief
The list of applicants was long, but Hendrick Motorsports has always liked to groom its own talent. So the organization didn’t have to look very far for the next leader of the No. 88 Chevrolet.
Greg Ives, who was shipped over to Earnhardt’s Nationwide Series team at the end of 2012 to gain his first experience as crew chief, was chosen Wednesday as Letarte’s replacement with NASCAR’s most popular driver. Letarte will move to an analyst role with NBC Sports and Ives will move from JR Motorsports to crew chief for Earnhardt.
“Not only is he the most talented candidate for the job, but it will be the most seamless transition,” Earnhardt said Wednesday. “I don’t see how it couldn’t go any smoother, being that he has that past history and understanding of the building.
“When Greg comes into that position, the boat won’t rock. Everybody already knows Greg, is comfortable with him.”
Ives was race engineer for Jimmie Johnson’s record run of five consecutive championships, and worked under Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus and alongside Earnhardt’s No. 88 team. When he told Hendrick management he wanted to be a crew chief, there were no openings in the organization. Ives was instead moved to JRM, which is co-owned by both Hendrick and Earnhardt.
The move helped Ives strengthen his rapport with Earnhardt, even though the two had been trash-talking each other for some time in their Fantasy Football league. Ives has been successful at JRM, winning two races last year with Regan Smith, and guiding rookie Chase Elliott to three wins and the top of the Nationwide Series points standings this season.
He’d paid his dues and earned the right to return to HMS with a Sprint Cup team.
“When we looked at the attributes that we would want for that crew chief, there’s two key parts: One is the relationship with Dale. The other is the relationship with Chad,” Hendrick general manager Doug Duchardt said.
Said Hendrick: “Greg was our No. 1 choice. This is a talented guy who already has a terrific rapport with Dale Jr. and is a fit with the organization.”
Ives worked under Knaus from 2006 through the 2012 season. Like Ives, Knaus left the Hendrick organization early in his career to get crew chief experience only to return when a prime Sprint Cup Series job opened. Johnson and Earnhardt’s teams work side-by-side out of the same shop, so Ives and Knaus will collaborate for both teams and the organization.
“He and Chad had a lot of success together, and all of our crew chiefs think the world of him and what he’s accomplished,” Hendrick said. “Greg’s proven that he can win races, and he has all the tools to do big things.”
Ives, from Bark River, Michigan, joined Hendrick Motorsports as a mechanic in 2004. He moved into an engineering role on the No. 48 team in 2006. In seven years working with Knaus, he contributed to 42 wins, 113 top-five finishes and 21 pole positions in the Sprint Cup Series.
“This is an incredible opportunity for me and my family,” Ives said. “Dale Jr. and I have a great relationship from being in the same shop at Hendrick Motorsports and my time at JRM.
“We have a lot left to do this season in the Nationwide Series, but I’m excited about what’s ahead and look forward to sharing some wins with JR Nation in the future. I couldn’t ask for a better situation than working with one of the best drivers and teams in racing.”
Earnhardt and Letarte opened this year with a win in the Daytona 500, and the No. 88 team is currently ranked second in the Sprint Cup standings.
“Nobody is going to be like Steve,” Earnhardt said. “Nobody is going to be like Chad. No crew chief is identical. A driver likes to hear positive reinforcement, and I’m sure Greg and I will learn how to give-and-take that. I’m sure he wants to hear it as well.”