JR Motorsports signs Greg Ives to crew chief for Regan Smith in 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series season

Chris Trotman

JR Motorsports is getting serious about winning.

Greg Ives, the longtime engineer for Jimmie Johnson (he was alongside Chad Knaus on the pit box for all five championships), was hired by JRM on Tuesday to crew chief its full-time Nationwide Series entry driven by Regan Smith.

Ives is one of NASCAR's great minds and should immediately make Smith's No. 5 team a strong title contender in 2013.

"Greg comes highly regarded," JRM co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "He has been a huge part of the 48 team's success, and this is a good opportunity for him to get his feet wet as a crew chief. The partnership between JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports gives us the opportunity to help employees advance their careers while still keeping them in the family, so to speak."

The move was another step toward enhancing JRM's relationship with Hendrick, which Earnhardt Jr. and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller did not feel was strong enough when the competition department was guided by Tony Eury Sr. and son Tony Eury Jr.

The Eurys were ousted to make way for an approach more in line with Hendrick's engineering department, and the result has been a noticeable improvement in performance.

Smith, in his first start for the team, won Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Homestead. Now he'll add Ives as a crew chief, who has been part of 42 wins, 113 top-fives and 21 poles in seven years with the No. 48 team.

"I have always aspired to be a crew chief, but it couldn't have happened without Hendrick Motorsports recognizing my goals early and giving me opportunities to ultimately reach them," Ives said. "And it doesn't hurt to be surrounded by people like Rick Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the entire 48/88 shop. They are the best in the sport – not just as racers but as people – and I plan to carry that experience with me to JR Motorsports."

The question now is how Ives' departure will impact the No. 48 team. A team's lead engineer is the crew chief's right-hand man, and Knaus will now need to find someone to fill Ives' role.

Hendrick is stocked with bright young minds, though, so in theory Johnson's performance shouldn't see much dropoff.

JRM likely to cut Cole Whitt's team

Though JRM had planned to field two full-time cars, Tuesday's press release indicated the team is likely to streamline its efforts behind Smith's No. 5 next season.

That would leave Cole Whitt without a full-time ride. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive the team's No. 88 car for several races next season and there could be another driver or two who runs a handful of events in the car, depending on sponsorship.

But at this point, at least, it sounds like JRM is shifting its focus to just one full-time team.

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