Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway is a home game in a lot of ways for the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet team at Hendrick Motorsports.
The state of Michigan is the home base for manufacturer Chevrolet and the team’s primary sponsor, Ally. If that weren’t enough, crew chief Greg Ives is from Bark River, Michigan, 436 miles from the location of Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN).
“Growing up about 7 hours north of Michigan International Speedway, I’ve been to the race track a few times as a fan,” said Ives, who is in his fifth full season working with driver Alex Bowman. “As a fan there was pressure for my driver, Jeff Gordon, who was my favorite at the time, to get the win.
“I feel the same way now as the crew chief for Alex, our great sponsor Ally and obviously our manufacturer Chevrolet and of course the fans that show up and want to see us do well.”
A strong run couldn’t come at a better for the No. 48 team, Ives and Bowman. The No. 48 team hasn’t finished inside the top 10 since the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, a stretch of eight races.
During that time, Bowman has finished 32nd or worse four times. That includes a 32nd-place finish last weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
Ives acknowledged his team’s recent struggles but said despite what the statistics show, the team isn’t lacking for speed. A little luck, on the other hand, would go a long way in helping the team turn things around before the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begin at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 4.
“Ultimately it comes down to a fast car and I feel like never giving up,” Ives said. “Also making the right changes from practice to the race. I feel like we were able to do that at Indy and put ourselves in position to I think continue to march forward to the front and improve our track position every lap and every time we pitted.
“Unfortunately a flat left-front tire with contact with the 4 car (Kevin Harvick) and then ultimately the 4 car later on, contact kind of took us out of the race. Until then I thought we were executing the race as best we could and overcoming obstacles when they were presented.”
Rather than get down or get frustrated by the lack of performance by the team of late, Ives said it’s more important to look at this situation as a chance to grow and learn how they could be better as a team.
“I feel like this is an opportunity to not only work on relationships between Alex and myself, but put some accountability and responsibility on the guys on the team to continue to improve, step up and know that the Playoffs start in a few weeks, but the trend back upwards starts this week,” Ives said.
A strong run, or perhaps even a victory Sunday at Michigan, would go a long way towards righting the ship for Ives, Bowman and company.
Obviously that kind of performance would serve as a confidence booster for all parties, but it would mean even more given the proximity to the home bases for Ally and Chevrolet.
“There is never any doubt that we can go into each weekend and win a race,” said Ives, who has a NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Michigan as a crew chief for Regan Smith in 2013. “We may not be a favorite right now and may not be in consideration for the Power Rankings or what you want to talk about, but you can probably ask anybody, ‘Who can be a sleeper this weekend or has potential that hasn’t lived up to their potential in the last few weeks’ and we’ll probably be part of it.
“Ultimately just go out there and execute a race. If we do that we can easily be inside the top 10 and if we qualify well, easily in the top five. All in all, to come out of there with a win, especially for the manufacturer battle, for Ally, who is a big contributor and supporter of our race team and also always there for fans, it would definitely be a big deal.”