Greg Ives is known publicly as one of the quiet leaders among the sport’s top-level crew chiefs.
Get him talking about family, though, and it’s a different story.
In his final season atop the pit box of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, Ives spoke at length with NASCAR.com about — well, everything: from family to future grandchildren to why he’s leaving an established job as crew chief at NASCAR’s winningest team on his own volition.
Ives, a Hendrick employee since 2004, marched through his 16th season in NASCAR in 2022, a year that challenged him and driver Alex Bowman despite a March victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The year was a success overall, qualifying for the playoffs together for the fifth consecutive season and winning for the fourth straight year.
But as the season progressed, Ives knew the time was coming to step away from being on the road 38 weeks of the year. He’ll be sticking around Hendrick Motorsports from 2023 forward, but his weekends will more often be spent locally instead.
“Ultimately, it comes down to timing,” Ives said. “My kids got a couple more years older. My daughter Payton’s 16. My daughter, Taylor, she’s … 10 this year, and my son (is) 8 this year. And you know, a lot of different activities from softball, football, go-kart racing, and, you know, my daughter becoming an adult and going to college soon, it was starting to weigh on me, kind of having to leave home. And then I feel like going through the COVID shutdown there for a while kind of made me realize how much maybe I was missing.”
Ives broke into the sport more than 18 years ago, hired by HMS as a mechanic on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet. The dream opportunity kept evolving, joining the No. 48 team with Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus as an engineer ahead of the program’s record streak of five consecutive championships. In 2013, he took his first crew chief role in NASCAR as the leader of JR Motorsports’ No. 7 team, piloted by driver Regan Smith, who won two races that season.
Then came a championship run in 2014 with Chase Elliott at JRM, where the duo took the No. 9 Chevrolet to three wins and 26 top 10s in 33 races. That propelled Ives back to Cup in 2015, replacing Steve Letarte atop the pit box of the No. 88 Chevrolet driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Since the start of 2015, Ives has crew chiefed for Earnhardt, Bowman, Gordon and Noah Gragson with a combined 10 victories.
In the hustle to work through the rest of the 2022 season, Ives had little time to reflect on his journey and career. But gratitude never escaped the native Michigander, who entered stock-car racing’s national level with a powerhouse team and managed to stay there and advance through the company.
“I’ve been so, so blessed and fortunate to be at the right point of my life, on the right day in the right hour, to meet the proper people to have those doors open for me …,” Ives said. “I did what I needed to continuously open those doors and, you know, hard work got me on the setup plate. Hard work got me noticed by Chad and wanted me to be his engineer. So yeah, I’ve been blessed to be part of Hendrick Motorsports since really my inception of racing.”
Family unity is a staple of Ives’ upbringing. He’s one of eight children – six sisters, one older brother – and grew up taking care of his nieces and nephews as a child himself. As a husband to wife Jessica and father to Payton, Taylor and son Parker, that love for those at home only strengthened as he grew older.
“I love being around family,” Ives said. “I love having kids around, enjoy that honest and just true love of life that they tend to bring into any situation, not the stress in the environment that we try to put ourselves in that we think is so important.”
In a 2011 lightning-round biography of Ives posted to Hendrick Motorsports’ website, the then-32-year-old had one answer that leaped off the page: “If I could meet anyone, I’d meet: My grandkids.”
Eleven years later, he can still recall why that answer came to mind.
“Ultimately, maybe I was foreshadowing the fact that, you know, the crew chief life is a tough life,” Ives said. “You’re traveling a lot, and you hear a lot of stories where crew chiefs are like, ‘Man, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my kids.’ …
“I love being around family. I love having kids around, enjoy that honest and just true love of life that they tend to bring into any situation, not the stress in the environment that we try to put ourselves in that we think is so important. So ultimately, I feel like the day that I start seeing my grandkids are the days that I kind of maybe got it together, you know? Maybe realize that it’s God, family, racing – not just racing all the time.”
If anything, he said, that highlights how much he’s thinking about his future rather than what’s best in the present.
That’s why even though he and driver Bowman had been relishing their sustained success, he decided it was time for a new role. Plans are undetermined yet for what that role fully entails – “I’m pretty much gonna rule the world,” he laughed – but he knows he’ll be working closely with Knaus, who now serves as Hendrick Motorsports’ Vice President of Competition.
There may also be opportunities to work more closely with the GM Charlotte Technical Center in Concord, right outside the Hendrick campus, as Chevrolet continues to find innovative ways to improve its on-track performance. It’s also not out of the question that Ives gets involved with the Garage 56 entry – a partnership between Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR that will see a modified Next Gen car partake in the storied 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2023.
Before that, though, came Phoenix, which was an important weekend both for Ives and for Bowman. Bowman missed five of the last six races of 2022 due to a concussion suffered in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 25. At his home track, Bowman was able to return at Phoenix for one final race with Ives calling the shots.
“A lot of emotion to come back with Greg,” Bowman said Nov. 5 at Phoenix. “Definitely a lot of different emotions. We’re obviously caught up in trying to run the best we can but just trying to enjoy it and really happy for him and the next step in his career.”
The return of Ives actually proved to be a strong motivator for Bowman as he worked to return to competition.
“I think having a goal to come back this year kept me working really hard and really accountable for what I was doing,” Bowman said. “I think if we would’ve said, ‘ah, we’re going to take the rest of the year off, it would’ve been way easier to sit on my butt and not work as hard. So I think that was good for me.”
While Ives’ future plans remain open, what’s certain is his belief in the future of the No. 48 team.
Blake Harris transitions from crew chief of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford and driver Michael McDowell to take the reins of Hendrick Motorsports’ famed No. 48 Chevrolet. Ives felt responsible to ensure Bowman had a crew chief who could “take him to the next level” if Ives wouldn’t be atop the box himself. So what did the search for the next crew chief entail?
“There’s a lot of things that you can look at, whether it’s experience, whether it’s an engineer, whether they’ve got a great personality or a leader,” Ives explained. “Ultimately, I think that all gets wrapped up in one word, and that’s called a racer. Anybody who eats sleeps, breathes, grows up in this sport … most of them have those qualities. And the determination to get to the Cup level as a crew chief is a hard feat in itself.
“That’s kind of what I saw in Blake. He’s a racer. Ultimately, names are just there. It’s character that’s usually what you see and those types of qualities. So, for me, it came down to those, right? Being a racer, being somebody who can put the time, energy, the work that it requires to be successful in this sport.”
Ives is and forever will be a racer. He won his first race on a Big Wheel in Michigan back at age 5 and eventually worked his way up to late models. His late model paint scheme was honored on the No. 48 Chevrolet at Darlington in 2021 as part of ‘Throwback Weekend.’ By age 16, he knew he wanted to work at Hendrick Motorsports. He achieved that by age 25.
For all of it, he credits his family.
“I feel like every day, I reflect on the opportunities that I’ve been given,” Ives said. “And so, (I’ve) been part of a great family. Mom and Dad, we had a big family. Had six sisters, one older brother, and when you’re put in that environment of living in the country and living off the land and having to cut wood and sell wood, and then grow your own food and sometimes hunt for it, you feel like everybody’s that way.
“And then when you start to realize that the hard work and the life that you were given, you know, you tend to be a little bit more grateful for the things that are easy. You know, hard work is not something … you can’t go learn it anywhere. It’s just something that’s instilled in you. So I always knew hard work was going to be part of my life.”
The hard work paid off. A new chapter awaits Ives in 2023.