"Steve would want us to get better. We are not trying to photocopy Steve and plug in a guy just like him. We want to try to get better," Earnhardt said Friday at Pocono Raceway. "I think we have [focused on that] in making this decision. I haven't been able to really talk to the guys yet, but the ones that I have been able to talk with, they feel like that is what we have done.
"We are going to be a better team for it once we get going next year. I mean, it's a big relief to get it off my shoulders and not worry about who we are going to be working with. What kind of personality he is going to be and whether or not we are going to get along or whether he is going to work and whether the chemistry is going to be good and the cars will be fast. I don't have to worry about that. I feel good about it."
Knaus also feels good about the decision, saying that while there are no easy decisions in NASCAR these days, this one was a "no-brainer" considering how Ives worked his way up from a mechanic to setting up Johnson's chassis and then to the lead race engineer with the team.
The shop is also excited to have Ives back in the fold, Knaus said.
"We have seen him come [to HMS] as a young man, get married, have kids, grow, turn into a crew chief, win races in the Nationwide Series, lead the points over there. Everybody is really excited to have him back," Knaus said. "I think he's going to be a positive influence to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.
"We are sad that Steve is leaving. ? We all like Steve, but much like Steve and [ Jeff Gordon's crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] and myself, Greg has gone up through the system. Everybody knows him, everybody respects him. He understands the Hendrick way, so it's good. I think it's going to be a great thing."
The June race here was a great thing for Earnhardt, as he took advantage of Brad Keselowski slowing in an attempt to use the air off a slower car to dislodge a piece of paper that was covering his grille. Earnhardt was dealing with a similar issue, but gambled his engine would last despite increasingly high temperatures, and it did just that.
As is the case with his next crew chief, Earnhardt knows the status quo likely won't be good enough on Sunday. Keselowski was the class of the field here in June, so the No. 88 team needs to be better.
"We didn't go into the race thinking that we had a very good chance of winning, we were just going to try to do the best we could and felt like we had a top-5 car, but there were certainly some guys much faster than us in practice," Earnhardt said. "We want to definitely find some speed on Saturday [during the two practice sessions] and give ourselves a little more breathing room, a little more comfort and confidence going into the race.
"We are confident. Anything can happen here. You get out front, it's going to be hard to pass. It's easy to pass from 15th on back, but when you get up there and the competition gets so tough in the top five, you just have to be in the lead or in second somewhere around the top three or four even on those last two restarts. The last restart you need to be on the front row to have a real shot at it."
By Mark Ashenfelter
Greg Biffle says he had options and considered leaving Roush Fenway Racing before signing a new, three-year contract nearly two months ago.