CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hendrick Motorsports didn’t look far for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s next crew chief, choosing a candidate already quite familiar with the organization.
Greg Ives, the race engineer for Jimmie Johnson’s record run of five consecutive championships, will return to Hendrick next season as crew chief for NASCAR’s most popular driver. Ives will replace Steve Letarte, who is stepping down at the end of the year for an analyst job with NBC Sports.
“Greg was our No. 1 choice,” team owner Rick Hendrick said Wednesday. “This is a talented guy who already has a terrific rapport with Dale Jr. and is a fit with the organization.”
Ives worked under Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus from 2006 through the 2012 season. He then moved to JR Motorsports for his first job as a crew chief, in the Nationwide Series with Regan Smith.
He was moved to rookie Chase Elliott’s pit box this year, and has five wins as a crew chief. Elliott is also the current Nationwide Series points leader.
Even though Ives was no longer in the Hendrick shop every day, JR Motorsports is co-owned by Earnhardt and Hendrick and relies heavily on HMS resources.
“I know what Greg is all about and really respect him,” Earnhardt said. “He’s a strong leader with a cool personality, and we’re both competitors who want to win. It was important to find someone who would fit at Hendrick Motorsports and inside our shop, and he will for sure do that.
“We got the best guy for the job, and I look forward to working with him next year.”
Ives will once again work closely with Knaus, who like Ives 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.