CONCORD, N.C. -- Over the past couple of years, Greg Ives’ name has become synonymous with Hendrick Motorsports. The crew chief of the No. 48 team quietly, yet steadily has worked his way up the ladder to sit atop the pit box of one of the most recognizable car numbers in the NASCAR Cup Series.
However, Ives didn’t always think he was going to be invested full time in motor sports. Growing up in the small town of Bark River, Michigan, which is located in the Upper Peninsula, Ives was planning to become a pediatrician or surgeon when he entered college on his dad's advice.
He detailed his experience with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast and how he thought he would have to keep his love of racing as a hobby. However, a nudge from his mom ultimately led to a degree change.
“I fell in love with racing, but not so much the driving part. I fell in love with the mechanic side of the car,” Ives said. “Setting up a program of how to be successful, that’s what grew my passion … I realized early in my racing career that it wasn’t so much money that wasn’t going to take me to the Cup level. It was talent, too. Even though I did well enough at the track, I didn’t travel enough, I wasn’t good enough in the seat turning the wheel to make a living out of it.
“But what I could do was take the passion of understanding the race car and apply it each week with changes and feel it for myself. That was my true passion and, ultimately, my doctorate degree kind of took a left turn (when) my mom told me I should be an engineer.”
Ives graduated with an engineering degree and used it to understand the ins and outs of race cars. He followed his dream of working at Hendrick Motorsports, finally getting a call from the racing giant for an interview in 2003. Ives started as a team engineer before slowly working his way to crew chiefing in the the Xfinity Series in 2013. He earned an Xfinity championship with Chase Elliott in 2014 before returning to Hendrick Motorsports as Earnhardt’s crew chief for the No. 88 team.
2016 saw some big challenges for Ives, who was trying to keep the morale of the No. 88 team strong after Earnhardt was sidelined with issues stemming from a concussion. Ives, who quickly became close with Earnhardt during that time, said he felt a sense of guilt when Earnhardt told him he was retiring from Cup Series racing.
“Initially, you put some of the burden on yourself, the responsibility on yourself,” Ives said. “I felt like, as a crew chief, I was supposed to protect him and not make certain decisions to put him in harm’s way. I think, one of the crashes, I made the decision to take two tires or four tires and it put us back at Michigan. Ultimately, we got in a crash. At that point, I felt some responsibility.”
Earnhardt was quick to reassure Ives that was the business in racing and that it was Ives who was a strong leader during that time. For the final 18 races of that season, Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman stepped in on an interim basis to drive the No. 88 machine. Earnhardt lauded Ives’ temperament with Bowman since he was still such a young driver on the Cup Series circuit.
Ives was paired with Bowman full time starting in 2018. He and Bowman have grown to understand each other and have an easy rapport, which has allowed the team to flourish. In each of the past three seasons, the duo has recorded at least one win, including their first victory together with the No. 48 Ally team this year at Richmond Raceway.
“What the driver does on the racetrack dictates the team’s morale,” Ives said. “If the driver has confidence and some sort of swagger, so does the team. I’ve always wanted to force – I don’t want to say force – Alex to be that leader on the team. I feel like he’s getting to that point. At Richmond, we had a bad pit stop and his comments were, ‘We’re going to pass them all again.’ It wasn’t a negative comment to beat down on the team. That was the pivotal point of the race.”
Ives’ full episode on “The Dale Jr. Download” can be streamed here. The show will be broadcast on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.