Elliott, Ives together in perfect harmony
August 01, 2014, George Winkler, NASCAR.com
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NEWTON, Iowa -- When Chase Elliott and Greg Ives met for the first time since news broke of Ives' departure to become Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief in 2015, it could have been intense. But the driver of the NASCAR Nationwide Series No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet decided to turn things in a different direction.
"I think he was kind of worried that I was going to be mad and what-not," Elliott said of his outgoing crew chief. "I was joking with him when I got here (to Iowa): 'I knew you didn't like me, but I didn't know I was going to run you off that fast.' It's cool. It's good to joke about. It's nothing that is heated where we have to worry about us being mad at each other. I'm happy for him and he knows that."
Turned out it was a good ice-breaker and could be an important unifying moment as Ives attempts to help bring home a championship for Elliott, who is atop the standings and leads JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith by four points entering Saturday night's U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by New Holland (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
But with the job as crew chief for NASCAR's most popular driver looming, the word distraction did crop up, even if for just a brief moment in Chase's mind.
"My first thought was I hope this isn't a distraction for him," Elliott said, "but the more I sat back and thought about it and just being honest with myself, Greg's the type of guy he's a very professional guy and he's not going to let that take his sights off what he knows is important and the rest of this season. So I have no doubt he's going to continue to do his job to the best of his ability, and I don't think we have anything to worry about there."
One might argue that, if anything, it's an embarrassment of riches for Ives, who gets to work with one of the most sought-after young talents on the Nationwide Series, then move back to the Hendrick Motorsports garage to team up with Earnhardt Jr., who is enjoying one of his best seasons, having already clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
"You know, somebody asked me if I was nervous," Ives said. "Nervous to try to win races and the championship and be competitive every week and have a group of guys that ... you know when they wake up in the morning they want to go to work for you, want you to be their leader?
"So I feel I have a big job right now, and that's not going to change whether it's Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr., or well whoever may come after that, if there is somebody after that."
That job this season has added up to 13 top-10s in 19 races, including three victories for Elliott. With 14 races to go before a champion is crowned, another trip to Victory Lane might be needed before Chase is a champion.
Yet with big things perhaps on the horizon on more than one front, Ives isn't letting off on his trademark intensity for the No. 9 team.
"There's a start line for me, but there's not a finish," Ives said. "I'm going after whatever I can go after. Two-thousand fifteen, yeah it's a big deal, it's a big job, but I feel like I put as much effort and as much emphasis on what we have going on with Chase and the NAPA 9 team to try to go out there and try to win races and championships."