Monday, May 4, 2015

Right Sides Only: Talladega Winning Crew Chief, Greg Ives

How did Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway? He may owe his sixth Sprint Cup win at the hallowed 2.66-mile Alabama track to an eight-year-old.

After the less than stellar finish at Richmond last weekend, Greg Ives's daughter, Payton, told him that he needed to "give Dale better racecars because he can't win with one like that." Strong words from a little girl.

Speaking of that tenacious little girl, Ives almost missed the race at Talladega.

"I was actually just talking to my daughter. She's being discharged from the hospital right now. She had a very significant break to her right arm, right above her elbow, had to get three pins last night.         
"Dale offered to fly me home, that it would be okay if I missed the race. She's my biggest fan, my biggest critic as well. I asked her if she wanted me to come home. She said no, it was my job to go out there and try to win the race. That's the only thing that's going to satisfy her.

"She's pretty tough on me for an eight-year-old. That's good. That's what we need. We need self-assurance that we're doing the right thing, but at times we also need a kick in the butt."

That swift kick in the rear must have worked because in his first year as a Cup crew chief, Greg Ives has a win and a shot at the championship, having punched his ticket to the Chase.

"When you win the race, you can't fall back on the laurels of that win. I'm not going to be satisfied with just one win and kind of locking ourselves in. We got to go into this summer season strong with a lot of momentum, preparing for that Chase now.         

"It's just one of those things that we're going to keep on pushing. Yes, it's great that we have this win. But, you know, we got to step up our program on the short tracks, try to get a win there. Also we need to continue what we've been building on intermediate-wise. We feel we've been very good there, have a little bit of work to do. We have to be good all around so when we get to the Chase we're contenders."

He won't be resting on his laurels, but was still excited about the prospect of a win when it got down to that last lap.

"With all the wrecking and all that stuff going on, it got some excitement as far as if they're going to throw the caution. NASCAR did a great job to make sure we competed all the way to the end.
"It's everyone that cars got wrecked at the end. If they were out of harm's way, if the drivers in the car were all right, that's what they need to do. If that would have meant we got beat, then we got beat.
"Yeah, there's excitement inside me, there's excitement that we got this win, but I was pretty happy."

Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images
That excitement gave way to emotion as Earnhardt Jr. took his victory lap.

"You know the number one thing to do is lead all practices, however that may be, qualify on the pole, win the race here. That's the support we get here. That's the support from the fans.
"When you have 43 race cars going by, you still hear the crowd cheering, you can see them jumping up in the stands, that puts a chill around you.
"As far as being emotional, yeah, of course, it's my first win as a Cup crew chief, first win thinking about things that are more than just race cars, whether it's my daughter, whether it's my mom, all those sorts of things. That's going to weigh on you.
"You work hard to get to a point to be in Victory Lane no matter where it is, what it is. That all gathers up in one lap or one race, you're going to have that.
"I'm excited. I'm happy. I feel great about where this race team's going. Obviously I haven't cried yet, so that's good. But I definitely was emotional about it, happy about it. Like I said, just thinking about my daughter with a broken arm, her being tough enough to not want her daddy, that's pretty cool."

The Hendrick Motorsports drivers qualified well, but did Ives have any concern that Earnhardt's fans were restless for a win?

"As far as pressure goes, I think of it as an opportunity to improve. That's how this team looks at it right now. We look at the pressure. What Junior Nation says on our bad days is nothing less than what my daughter will tell me when I get home. They're going to have great things to say, they're going to have bad things to say. The honesty is what I want. I don't care about fluff and buff.  I want the honesty. I want the truth. I want to know we're going to get better. That is the only way this team is going to be in competition when it comes down to Homestead. That's the only way we're going to grow. Honesty, that's what I want."

So did Ives learn anything about his team today?

"There's a lot of new things when you're coming into the team, whether it's the pit crew, the road guys, Dale himself, T.J., you know, you always have that feeling. This helps that scenario or that session kind of get by a little bit quicker.
"You know, the decision to be the first one to pit road under green at lap I think it was 154 or 155 was a decision made not just by myself but through a conversation I had with my engineers. We were talking about wanting to be the first ones on pit road. We didn't want to be caught with a yellow out, somebody else being able to leapfrog us. Over 20, 30 laps we were going through different scenarios, how much fuel we needed, when we were going to pit, how that was going to dictate where we're going to line up, whether we would go a lap down if we didn't get enough cars with us.
"To be honest with you, it was that conversation that helped us come to pit road. We didn't hear a lot of people chattering about coming at lap 154, 155. We started a conversation amongst ourselves, talked with our teammates on the 48 with Chad and Jimmie. We knew we had at least one.
"Right there, that's telling me that I need to have confidence in my team, not that I didn't before, but we need to have those conversations. If we do, we're going to be better collectively and go on to potentially win races."

Talladega can be one of those tracks where strategy matters, or it simply doesn't, as the day plays out. Some drivers and crew chiefs feel incredible pressure to perform well there. Ives is no different. When asked at what point prior to the start of the race did he begin feeling that the No. 88 team could be victorious, Ives responded like someone who'd been atop the war wagon for years.

"When it got put on the schedule... Any race put on the schedule, we need to win at. That's my mentality. I feel like when this started not just yesterday, not Friday morning, not even Thursday, this started when we had that victory at Daytona in the 150s. That gave a confidence boost for Steve who heads up our speedway program, that we're on the right path. He always does a great job with the cars. As far as I'm hard on myself, he's just as hard on himself. Perfection is what we want."

Their season may not be perfect, but Jr. Nation doesn't care. They're thrilled with this win and can't wait to see what the Chase holds for their favorite driver.


    Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend. 
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far. 
    Her other interests include country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.


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