By Jared Turner
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Friday at Pocono that he and first-year crew chief Greg Ives still don’t have the close, personal friendship that the driver enjoyed with Steve Letarte, his crew chief of the past four seasons. Calling Ives, an engineer, “super, super-serious,” Junior admitted that the new guy atop the No. 88 pit box this season doesn’t joke around much and that there’s not a lot of small talk that goes on between the driver and crew chief. While it’s certainly commendable that Ives doesn’t take his responsibilities lightly, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for the rookie crew chief to let his hair down every once in awhile and let Earnhardt and other members of the team see a different side of him. Doing such would only build chemistry and make the No. 88 group a tighter-knit bunch than it already is.
Whoever decided a few years back to knock 100 miles – the equivalent of 40 laps — off of the two annual events at Pocono Raceway deserves a big bear hug. What were once two of the dullest, most humdrum races on the schedule aren’t half as bad, anymore, thanks to the shorter distance that requires drivers to get up on the wheel a lot sooner and makes the middle portion of the race a lot more meaningful. In the final 50 laps of Sunday’s race – which, by the way, was completed in just under three hours – the caution flag waved four times, with each yellow flying for a wreck. A few years back, drivers would have been taking it relatively easing and biding their time during this part of the race. Now, it’s go-time for everyone – and the result is increased aggression among drivers and a heightened level of excitement for the fans watching at home and in the stands.