The past week gave us two of the bigger stories we might see when it comes to decisions made for the 2015 season of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The first major announcement concerned the future of Carl Edwards with Roush Fenway Racing. As in, there isn’t one. 2014 will be the final season for Edwards driving the No.99 for the team, the only team he has known since coming to the Sprint Cup Series in 2004. Edwards has 23 career wins and has twice finished second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in his time with Roush Fenway. Don’t cry for Edwards, however. The decision was his and the 34-year-old driver already has a deal in place for the future, but it will not be announced for a while.
Edwards becomes the second big driver to leave Roush Fenway in the last three years, as Matt Kenseth left the team for Joe Gibbs Racing following the 2012 season. Speaking of Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing, the rumor is that Edwards will join his former teammate, becoming the fourth driver for the now three-car team starting next season.
Taking over for Edwards at Roush Fenway will be Trevor Bayne, who is currently competing full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway and has raced in eight of the season’s 20 Sprint Cup Series events this season for Wood Brothers Racing. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner will join Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to make up the three teams at Roush Fenway in 2015. Roush has to hope the returns on Bayne are better than the early returns on Stenhouse, Jr. After winning two consecutive NASCAR Nationwide series championships in 2011 and 2012, Stenhouse, Jr. has struggled to find his game in the Sprint Cup Series, finishing 19th in the standings last season and currently sitting in 27th this season, all but eliminated from a spot in the Chase if he doesn’t pick up a win in the next six races.
With two young drivers in heir stable, Roush Fenway made what might be the best move of all by hiring Mark Martin as a driver development coach. The 55-year-old former driver owns 40 wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and was the runner-up for the Sprint Cup championship four times, most recently in 2009.
And then on Wednesday came the second big announcement of the week, when we found out who would replace Steve Letarte as the crew chief on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No.88 next season for Hendrick Motorsports. It was announced before the season that Letarte would not be back after 2014, as he is joining the team over at NBC as they begin their journey of broadcasting NASCAR races.
To replace him, Hendrick Motorsports tabbed 34-year-old Greg Ives. Currently, Ives is the crew chief on the No.9 entry in the NASCAR nationwide Series driven by Chase Elliott for JR Motorsports, the team co-owned by Earnhardt, Jr. Right now, Elliott sits atop the Nationwide Series standings and leads all drivers with three wins and eight top-five finishes in 2014. Last season, Ives was the crew chief for Regan Smith, who finished third in the series standings and found victory lane twice – the most wins of any series regular in 2013.
This was a move that received the full endorsement of Earnhardt, Jr., but not one that is taking his focus off the task at hand in 2014 – trying to win his first Sprint Cup Series championship.
Well there ya have it. Greg Ives will crew chief our #88 team next year. We couldn’t be more excited to have him come on board.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 30, 2014
As happy as we are about putting the crew chief decision in the rear view, there’s still a lot of season left. Races to try and win.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 30, 2014
It was important for the team to find a strong replacement for Letarte, who has helped Earnhardt, Jr. turn things around after the driver missed the Chase in 2009 and 2010 with Lance McGrew as his crew chief. Earnhardt, Jr. also missed the Chase in 2007, and finished 12th in 2008 after entering the Chase ranked fourth.
Ives will bring a championship knowledge over to the No.88 team from his days with the other car in the 48/88 shop at Hendrick Motorsports. He spent seven seasons as the race engineer under Chad Knaus for Jimmie Johnson’s No.48 Chevrolet from 2006-2012, with Johnson taking home the Sprint Cup Series championship five times.
It seems like this is the perfect move for all involved.
These moves will hardly be the last ones made as we head towards the 2015 season. When all is said and done, you will definitely need a scorecard by the time the Daytona 500 rolls around.