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Earnhardt Jr. relieved by reaction to Ives hire

August 01, 2014, Stu Hothem, NASCAR.com

Emotional Chase ahead for No. 88 team in Letarte's swan song

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LONG POND, Pa. -- Upon landing at Pocono Raceway on Friday, a confident Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted he's "lookin' for a broom" to complete the season sweep at the triangle track. The confidence may come from his relief over Wednesday's announcement that Greg Ives will be his crew chief in 2015.

"The one thing that I was probably most happy about or relieved about was to be able to make a decision and just get it done," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I didn't want to be in the middle of choosing that guy. I kind of wanted to just sit back and watch."

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In the two days since Ives was revealed as Steve Letarte's successor, positive feedback from inside the walls of Hendrick Motorsports has convinced Earnhardt Jr. that he has the right personnel to continue the success he has seen under Letarte.

"Number one, it was great to hear how confident Rick (Hendrick) and Doug (Duchardt, Hendrick Motorsports general manager) and Chad (Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 car) and all them were in this particular choice," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That gets me excited. I can get right behind that. I already know how good Greg is, but just knowing that Chad and everybody believes in that decision and thinks that we will be even better off than we are today."

While his current crew chief has helped raise the No. 88 team to new heights in 2014 with two wins and Earnhardt Jr.'s best championship chance in years, the driver doesn't want to rest on Letarte's laurels as the organization looks to continue its strong momentum into next season.

"We are not trying to photocopy Steve and plug in a guy just like him," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We want to try to get better. I think we have in making this decision.

"I haven't been able to really talk to the guys yet, but the ones that I have been able to talk with they feel like that is what we have done. We are going to be a better team for it once we get going next year."

As an owner, Earnhardt Jr. has gotten to know Ives, who has helped build JR Motorsports into title contender, finishing third last year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship with Regan Smith and leading the points this year with Chase Elliott.

"I mean it's a big relief to get it off my shoulders and not worry about who we are going to be working with. What kind of personality he is going to be and whether or not we are going to get along or whether he is going to work and whether the chemistry is going to be good and the cars will be fast. I don't have to worry about that. I feel good about it."

As a commissioner of two fantasy leagues, Dale Jr. is ready for some football, activating his leagues this week. However, the league he shares with Ives at Hendrick Motorsports, isn't fired up yet.  

Perhaps it's for the best as he hopes to savor his final 16 races with Steve Letarte and turn the No. 88 team's two wins in 2014 into a storybook title run with his outgoing crew chief.

"There is a lot of emotion. Every race gets a little bit harder knowing this is Steve's (Letarte) last year. I know that winding down into the Chase is going to get pretty emotional for both of us."

As Earnhardt Jr. seeks the second season sweep of a track in his career, he began the weekend taking things one step at a time with Letarte.

"Me and Steve talked about that particular thing is we want to try to get a little bit better in practice so that we have a little more confidence," Earnhardt Jr. said.

After spending time on top of the speed charts in Friday's first practice before finishing the session as the top Hendrick car in ninth, the No. 88 team started the weekend on the right foot with a secure future heading into 2015.

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