Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends crew chief Greg Ives’ performance

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he had heard enough “chatter” from fans about crew chief Greg Ives that he needed to tell them to “shut THAT (expletive) down.’’

Earnhardt, in his final full-time season driving in Cup, sent the tweet after exiting Sunday’s Brickyard 400 because of contact on a restart damaged his car. He finished 36th.

Some fans were upset about Ives’ pit strategy before the incident. Earnhardt could have stayed out on a caution at Lap 72 with others. Had he done so, Earnhardt would have restarted fifth. Instead, Ives called him to pit road and Earnhardt restarted 24th.

Ives told NBC Sports that it was an easy call because of what he felt was the difference between old tires and new tires. With what he thought would be a limited cushion of cars between Earnhardt and those with new tires on the restart, Ives said it was best to pit.

On the restart, the field got jumbled and Earnhardt ran into the back of Trevor Bayne’s car, damaging the radiator on Earnhardt’s Chevrolet.

It was another disappointing finish for Earnhardt, who needs a win to make the playoffs. He is 22nd in the points with one top five and four top-10 finishes in 20 races. He’s led 24 laps this season. 

As some fans complained about the strategy, Earnhardt reacted with the tweet.

Earnhardt explained during a break in tire testing Tuesday at Dover International Speedway why he sent the note to his fans.

“I just have heard the chatter over the season,’’ Earnhardt said. “We’ve had a difficult year and there’s just been a little rumbling in the background from the fans. They just love to target the crew chief. Our struggles are no one individual’s responsibility.

“I think that being my crew chief, we have such a very passionate fan base, very large fan base, it’s a challenging position for anybody. I’ve seen that with all the guys that I’ve worked with and they’ve all had to deal with criticism, was it the right call this week, what about the next week? They just get really picked apart.

“This is our last season. We’ve had some pretty difficult results and had opportunity to be frustrated and miserable, but I don’t want this season to be remembered by my crew chief, by myself, by my guys as a miserable time. The fans have an influence on that. They can definitely ease up a little bit on Greg and realize that he’s extremely talented, he’s in that position for a reason.’’

Ives has been praised for how he kept the team together after Earnhardt was out 18 races because of concussion symptoms. Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in Earnhardt’s absence. Hendrick Motorsports announced last week that Bowman will take over Earnhardt’s ride next season.

Earnhardt, who will join NBC Sports’ broadcast team next year, said he can’t wait to watch Bowman and Ives next year.

“He’s going to have incredible success beyond my driving career as a crew chief at HMS, and I look forward to seeing that happen as soon as next season with Alex,’’ Earnhardt said Tuesday of Ives. “He was able to work with Alex in a matter of a few weeks and have Alex up to speed, confident and fast and almost winning races. (Ives) won a championship with Chase (Elliot) in the Xfinity Series. He won five championships with Jimmie Johnson as the lead engineer.

“Maybe Twitter ain’t the place to be drawing attention to things like that. You just hear enough chatter through the course of a long period of time. It wasn’t something that happened that particular weekend. … It’s not OK to be a fan and dog the crew. You’re a fan of the team. I know it’s important that they embrace the crew chief, the guys on the crew, the mechanics, the tire changers, they’ve got to embrace the whole thing.’’

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