Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief has been named for the 2015 season, and it's a name already heavily connected to NASCAR's most popular driver.
Greg Ives will lead Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet next season, taking over when crew chief Steve Letarte leaves to become an NBC Sports analyst after four seasons with Earnhardt.
After working as the race engineer for Jimmie Johnson's five consecutive championships from 2006-10 under crew chief Chad Knaus, Ives moved from Hendrick Motorsports to Earnhardt's JR Motorsports team in the Nationwide Series in 2013. He has guided JRM cars to five victories, including three with rookie Chase Elliott, who leads the points standings.
Ives will be reunited with Knaus at Hendrick, which fields the cars of Earnhardt and Johnson from the same building.
Hendrick general manager Doug Duchardt said "the relationship with Dale and the relationship with Chad" were the two keys to filling the position.
"This allows us to avoid any unrest," Duchardt said of making the announcement with 16 races remaining in the season. "This allows us to communicate to the team and the race shop what our plans are with the No. 88 and the No. 9 (of Elliott's team) running for the championships."
Beyond being Knaus' right hand atop the No. 48 pit box for seven consecutive seasons, Ives also has built a rapport with Earnhardt away from the track, engaging in what Duchardt called "some all-time smackoff competitions" in Hendrick's fantasy football league.
"I thought I'd run the league with my jaw," Earnhardt laughed during a conference call with the news media. "Greg was winning every game. He destroyed me, not only on the gridiron but also the message board as well."
Earnhardt said Ives' understanding of the culture of Hendrick's 48-88 dynamic made him "not only the most talented candidate but the most seamless transition.
"I knew he was in position to be groomed in this role," Earnhardt said. "I've always admired his understanding of how a car works and his attention to detail. His demeanor and personality are very easygoing, and he's a fun guy to be around. We've had a great working relationship for several years. The best part is he knows what the 48-88 shop is about and the mentality there and how the work goes on. He has a great rapport with not only Chad, but he's worked with a lot of those guys in the past.
"I don't see how it could go any smoother."
Earnhardt said if it didn't impact JRM's No. 9 Nationwide team and Elliott, the team would consider having Ives atop the pit box with Letarte for some Sprint Cup races this season.
Ives has been studying Earnhardt's postrace reports to gain an understanding of the driver's lingo.
"I'm willing and able to do whatever it takes," Ives said. "The way I feel about the 48-88 shop is it's my home."
Ives, 34, joined Hendrick as a mechanic in 2004. The Bark River, Mich., native was an engineer for Chevrolets that Johnson drove to 42 wins, 113 top fives and 21 pole positions in Cup.
While many had speculated on who Hendrick might tap and pointed to Earnhardt Jr.'s need for a cheerleader atop his pit box, especially when times are tough, there is less concern with that now.
Earnhardt Jr. indicated Letarte hasn't had to do as much positive reinforcement of late because the driver's confidence is stout. Earnhardt Jr. is having one of his best seasons, with two wins and 14 top-10s in 20 races and a spot in the Chase nearly guaranteed since his season-opening Daytona 500 victory.
"Greg understands working with different people different ways," Earnhardt said. "Nobody's going to be like Steve or Chad. No crew chiefs are identical. I think a driver likes to hear positive reinforcement. I'm sure Greg and I will learn to give and take that. I'm sure he wants to hear that as well. We'll both share responsibility."
Team owner Rick Hendrick outlined Ives' coronation in a statement: "Greg was our No. 1 choice. This is a talented guy who already has a terrific rapport with Dale Jr. and is a fit with the organization. He and Chad had a lot of success together, and all of our crew chiefs think the world of him and what he's accomplished. Greg's proven that he can win races, and he has all the tools to do big things."
JRM is co-owned by Earnhardt and Hendrick, and the teams work closely in sharing technical information.
Kelley Earnhardt Miller, vice president and co-owner of JR Motorsports, was with an emotional Ives when he shared the news with JRM. Earnhardt Miller tweeted that the experience was "very cool."
Elliott is under contract with Hendrick, and it's expected the 18-year-old eventually will move to NASCAR's premier series with the team.
Duchardt, though, said keeping Elliott and Ives together didn't factor into the decision because Ives had indicated his desire to become a Cup crew chief before being paired with Elliott.
"During this whole process, especially introducing Greg's name into the mix, we definitely had respected the situation with Chase and Greg," Earnhardt said. "Mr. Hendrick has a great plan for Chase that we all believe in and those particulars will be announced when they're ready. There are a lot of things we're very excited about for Chase."
Elliott tweeted he was "happy for Greg and his new opportunity @HMS. It's been a blast so far this season, n we're lookin forward 2 the rest of it! #deserving"