Earnhardt: Hendrick has 'great plan' for Elliott
July 31, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Crew chief Greg Ives may be leaving Chase Elliott's team after this season to move up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. has no concerns about the future of his NASCAR Nationwide Series phenom.
"Mr. Hendrick has a great plan for Chase going forward that we all believe in, and those particulars will be filtering out and announced whenever they're ready to be announced. But now's not the time," Earnhardt said Wednesday, referring to Rick Hendrick, with whom he and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller co-own the JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team where Elliott currently competes.
"But we definitely have a lot of things that we're very, very excited about for Chase. We feel like he's got a great opportunity, not only in (2015) to have a great, successful season with whomever's his crew chief, but also this year with Greg and what they have remaining this year. I'm excited to get that information out there, and will do that when the time comes."
Ives, who will take over Earnhardt's No. 88 program next year, has won three Nationwide races this season with Elliott, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR Hall of Fame selection Bill Elliott. The younger Elliott leads the Nationwide standings by four points over JRM teammate Regan Smith, whom Ives worked with last season, and led to two race victories.
Earnhardt has said he would prefer that Elliott run two seasons in Nationwide, though no formal plans for next season have been revealed. Although many assumed that Ives would help to shepherd Elliott up to NASCAR's premier series when that move inevitably occurred, Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt said no such plan was in place.
"Greg's career path began before we had Chase as a driver in the 9 car," Duchardt said. "Greg had shown an interest in being a crew chief, and Rick and (Hendrick competition director) Ken Howes and myself had sat down and talked about what we thought was the best path for him, and we ran that by Dale and Kelley to make sure they were supportive of bringing Greg over to JRM. So that's what we did in 2013."
Things changed in January of this year, when Earnhardt's current crew chief, Steve Letarte, announced plans to leave after the season to become a television analyst for NBC Sports. "It became evident pretty quickly that this would be the right person for the job," Duchardt said of Ives, whose pairing with Elliott "wasn't really part of the consideration as we looked at it," he added.
While Hendrick finalizes its plans for Elliott for next year and beyond, the short-term focus is in maintaining the integrity of the No. 9 team's run at the Nationwide title. "During this whole process, especially when we introduced Greg's name into the mix, we definitely have respected the situation with Chase, with Greg, and they're racing for a championship this year," Earnhardt said.
At the same time, there have already been discussions about Ives staying over for the Sprint Cup race on companion weekends, so he can sit atop the No. 88 box with Letarte and get a head start on understanding his future driver's terminology and preferences inside the car.
"I expect that we'll definitely protect his current situation where he's racing for a championship on the Nationwide side with Chase," Earnhardt said. "And we’ll respect that to the utmost. But if possible, if he's able to stay over on Sundays, it would be beneficial to give him the ability to be on the box with us. If that's an option for us to do that, if he can give us that kind of time, we'll do that."