Not Just Driving The Car: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Adapting To Change On The Pit Box, Taking Over Leadership Role For Teamby Alanis King April 12, 2015 0 comments
Photo Credit: Wayne Thomas
By: Alanis King
FORT WORTH, Tex. — As Steve Letarte prepares to take on his new role behind the camera at NBC Sports, the driver he formerly acted as crew chief for finds himself still adjusting to a new person calling shots on the pit box.
“He’s not Steve,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in regards to new crew chief Greg Ives, who led rookie Chase Elliott to an XFINITY Series championship in 2014. “They don’t have the same personality — not that one is better than the other.”
In Earnhardt’s first year with Ives, the driver said that he’s trying to develop the type of relationship that he had with Letarte, who sat atop the No. 88 pit box from 2011 until the conclusion of last season — a relationship that “was like working with your best friend every day.”
“I need that relationship,” Earnhardt said. “That’s a relationship I want to have with my crew chief. I want to be best friends. I want to be good pals. I want to enjoy working together — I need things to motivate me to make the racing enjoyable.”
Not that Earnhardt doesn’t enjoy the new adjustment — it’s just different. For Earnhardt, the relationship with Ives has a chemistry that allows the crew chief to sense when he’s concerned, and the driver said that “it’ll get better and better” as the two get acquainted.
Ives “isn’t the cheerleader that Steve was” for Earnhardt, though, and one thing the driver looked to better in himself during the offseason was his ability to be a good motivator.
“I used to just sit there and let Steve motivate me — motivate the team,” Earnhardt said. “And I thought, ‘you know, I can’t always depend or count on that, and maybe I need to step up and just have a better attitude.’”
That goal to display a better attitude was put to the test at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, as the team had some difficulty on pit road and Earnhardt stepped in to “let the guys know it’s not a big deal, it’s a long race, we’ll get it fixed,” while stepping into the cheerleader role on the team.
“The cheerleader that Steve was was really, really good, but it also let me off the hook a lot,” Earnhardt said. “And now working with Greg, I’ve got to be more accountable for carrying my own emotions and taking care of myself.”
Earnhardt said that Letarte was “really, really good at controlling that stuff” during his years on the team, but that he has a lot of respect for Ives on the pit box as well.
“I don’t really know what goes on inside the pit box right now with Greg,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t have a lot of experience being in the pits with him, but I think he’s a great leader — and like I say, our relationship is getting better and better.”
That relationship may not be evident to everyone else just yet, but Earnhardt said that he has had a few moments “away from the spotlight” when Ives has relayed his pride in the driver and acted as a motivator in times of adversity.
And while Earnhardt still looks to continue to build on the new driver-crew chief relationship, he said that Ives is putting together great cars for the team. Earnhardt just yearns to find that same connection he had with Letarte that “really, really ramps everything else up” in addition to pure car prep.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for [Ives],” Earnhardt said. “He’s a great family man. We all swap advice, and he’s real honest — knowing the things he’s done to get to where he is, I trust his judgement.
“He’s doing some great things, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to work with him early in his career, because he’s really great. He’s one of the best crew chiefs, I think, in the garage.”