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With Ives returning as crew chief, Bowman wins pole at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Greg Ives has a storied history with the No. 48 on the side of his team’s race car.

Ives, a 2003 Michigan Tech mechanical engineering graduate from Bark River, began with Hendrick Motorsports in the mid-2000s as a race car engineer for the No. 48 when driver Jimmie Johnson won five consecutive NASCAR Cup Series championships.

Ives enters his seventh season as crew chief with Hendrick Motorsports, and his fourth with NASCAR driver Alex Bowman. Ives was previously crew chief for three seasons with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After Johnson retired following last season, Hendrick Motorsports moved Ives and Bowman to running the Ally-sponsored No. 48 starting this season.

They’ve already found success, as Bowman won the pole position for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The race begins at 2:30 p.m.

Ives said the change to the No. 48 from No. 88 was a change made directly from the top.

“Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and Ally, they branded well with having the 48 and Jimmie Johnson,” Ives said. “There were some ties that were deep with the company and also the sponsor. Alex and I were definitely OK with it. For us to be able to continue on the history and legendary number of the 48 is our honor. I have a great foundation and history with that number. Yeah I was with it for seven seasons, away from it for however.”

Ives and Bowman are coming off a strong 2020 season that was, like every other facet of life, upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, Bowman, 27, raced to a sixth-place overall finish.

Bowman’s sixth-place finish and pole finish in Daytona 500 qualifying is evident of what Ives described as a strong race team that stayed in place through the offseason.

Mostly.

William “Rowdy” Harrell, a tire carrier for Ives’ No. 88 team last season, had married his wife Blakley on Nov. 21 and traveled to the Florida Keys to celebrate on their honeymoon. Three days later, they were killed in a highway crash in the Keys. William was 30, Blakley was 23.

Ives said that tragedy was why he was content to stay with his wife Jessica and their three children at his father’s farm in Bark River during the offseason, tending to the cows and other chores needing to get done.

“Spent the offseason remembering him and his wife and being there for the family as much as possible,” Ives said of the Harrells. “We don’t need those types of incidents to remember time is short, but it’s something that makes you realize that. That’s why I really enjoyed just going home and spending time at the house and not have to be entertained.”

Ives said his team staying in place despite the tragedy allowed them to hone their communication skills and improve weaknesses.

“I think the biggest thing team-wise is you’re trying to develop your communication, cohesiveness, each role has their strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Work on the weaknesses. In order to elevate your whole time you have to find your weaknesses and work on them.

“Obviously we’re always pushing the limits and we’re going to fail at times and that’s the point. Every time you fail, you have to learn and continue to work. I push our guys to have responsibility, have accountability.”

Ives said Bowman’s commitment to success off the race track has led to the consistency he’s shown on it. The two stayed in constant communication when the NASCAR schedule was put on hold last year by the pandemic.

“Through all this, communication can get tough when you’re not spending time face to face in the same room as you have the meeting,” Ives said. “That’s what allowed us to grow as a team and Alex and I as a combination quicker. Not that we had to — I always felt like we’ve gotten along — it just allowed us to improve our communication and compete every week.

“You have to change your approach of how you want to be a leader and how you’re going to do that when you can’t be around the people that work for you,” Ives added. “That matured him quickly in a sense that it showed on the race track as well. If you’re working out and doing all the things you need to outside the race car, it’ll show inside the race car. You can’t really fake it. I credit his improvement and the hard work he puts in, whether it’s working out or prep work he’s doing before he comes to the race track. That falls on individual accountability and understand what it takes to be successful.”

NASCAR didn’t make any major rule changes from last year. The car, Ives said, is more or less the same as last year.

“They just changed their tech procedure,” he said. “They utilized a hand-held template instead of a Hawk-Eye to measure a certain area of a car. It made you have to fit that area a little bit better. We put new bodies and stuff, your philosophy didn’t really change. It wasn’t dramatic, it wasn’t anything too crazy. We were able to work through it pretty well.”

Being one of the four speedway races on the NASCAR schedule, Ives said the one element he likes most about his team’s speedway package is something he doesn’t get for most of the races on the schedule: time.

“If your car survives that race, and there’s not a lot of changes in the rules, you have an extra month to work on it,” Ives said. “That’s the biggest thing is you have more time to work on your speedway program. There’s four races a year and you have more time to work on them in between. Ultimately that’s what I like the most about it whether it’s qualifying with it. You’re able to have some ideas to test it, lab test it, understand some more, re-design it and re-implement it. You have cyclical type R&D development.”

Ives said the turnaround with the speedway cars is a lot more manageable.

“Now, once we race here, I can figure out what we need to do a little bit better and have a couple months before we head back to Talladega,” he said. “Your turnaround is a lot quicker, so you have a quicker pace of development. Sometimes when you’re developing, you can’t make parts, pieces or implement that into the car until one or two races later.

“Time is one of the biggest things I enjoy about the speedway races. It’s such an art. For qualifying, it’s getting your car in a certain trim to be able to run the fastest lap. Obviously we’re capable of doing that. Daytona 500 gives you two distinctive things to shoot for: qualifying and the 500. So you’re adjusting the trim for qualifying and adjusting the handling for the race.”

Ives’ 6-year-old son Parker and his daughter Taylor got into box stock racing last year while the NASCAR season was on hold. They raced when they could, and Ives found some lessons while watching Parker and Taylor compete.

“It’s helped me kind of understand balance of what I need really in my job,” Ives said. “Not every race weekend in my professional career is going to go exactly right. Whether I’m taking it too hard, or getting down on the guys, or constructively making our team better, then I need to quit that. I think having Parker race, my daughter Taylor race in that competitive environment has helped me understand ‘hey, it’s OK to try and it’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to give up and get upset about it.’ It may be a cliche or whatnot but you have to learn your own life lessons and that’s been mine.”

Also, Ives said, Parker showed a flare for some of the heat-of-the-moment things NASCAR drivers do when racing gets tense.

“For 6 years old, he’s racing 60 miles an hour and racing side-by-side with kids,” Ives said. “When you see how close these kids are running, it’s something. He’ll put the bumper to somebody and it’s not an accident. That’s what’s impressive to me is when I was 5, 6 years old, I was lucky enough to ride a bike.”

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