TMS Media Relations | Aug 06, 2014
Last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, got a look at his present and future and both appear to be promising. Earnhardt Jr., in the midst of a career season, wrapped up a weekend of excitement by capturing his third win of the season and became just the seventh driver that recorded a Sprint Cup Series season sweep at Pocono Raceway.
The win punctuated a week that earlier provided Earnhardt Jr. with news of the future as he learned that Greg Ives – currently the crew chief for Chase Elliott in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – will serve as crew chief for the No. 88 team beginning in 2015. Ives will replace Steve Letarte, who is departing at the close of the season to serve as a NASCAR television analyst for NBC Sports. The week personified the magical season the No. 88 team has been enjoying since winning the season-opening Daytona 500 in February. While the 2015 season will bring a dramatic change, Earnhardt Jr. is reveling in the present as the chemistry continues to build in the Hendrick Motorsports camp.
“We enjoy being around each other and just the group, you hear it all the time and I feel like it’s kind of cliché to say, but this group really enjoys each other,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We all have a vested personal interest in each other to be better, and we want to help each other, and we want to see everybody happy. I mean every individual you work with, to try to make their day easier, try to make their job easier, try to help them be better at their job. We all do that for each other and I think the team clicks on all cylinders.”
The announcement of Ives as Earnhardt Jr.’s future crew chief provided a much-needed boost to a team that had been in limbo since Letarte announced in February he would be stepping down to serve in the role of race analyst with NASCAR’s new broadcast partner in 2015.
The announcement not only provided a sense of direction for Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 crew, it has allowed them to come together to make one final run as a team for a Sprint Cup Series championship.
“I think that the timing was spectacular,” Letarte said of the announcement of Ives. “I think it really helps ease the guys because in the end the way Hendrick Motorsports works and I can't speak to other race teams, I never worked anywhere else, the crew chief's responsible. He's responsible for his car, responsible for his team.
“I think what this does is it brings in an in-house Hendrick guy who knows the rest of the Hendrick team. And I'm with Dale, it allows a guy like Greg and Dale and myself to have conversations and let him know where the strengths and weaknesses and if I was staying when I would work on and I think that's exactly right. I think that this allows a really strong, tight-knit group to stay together and get a new leader and support him, because he's going to have – the frying pan's hot with Dale, Jr., so he's going to have a lot to kind of understand, but I don't doubt it at all his ability to build race cars and call races, he's going to be great.”
Sunday’s victory at Pocono made Earnhardt Jr. the championship favorite with five races remaining before the cutoff to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Earnhardt Jr.’s three wins this season are the most since he had six in 2004 and his 10 top-10 finishes are the most among Sprint Cup Series drivers at this juncture.
Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte both understand momentum is fleeting in the sport. While the team remains one of the hottest in the NASCAR, channeling its focus during the final stretch of the season ultimately will be the key to a championship run.
“Hope is not a strategy, it doesn't get you there,” Letarte said. “Dreaming is not a strategy, it doesn't get you there. So I don't let anything like that or try not to let anything like that distract us. Hard work is a strategy. And that's what we try to do. Homestead (site of the Chase finale) is so far from now, you guys will print a different story after Watkins Glen and that's really, that's real life.”
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