TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief, Greg Ives, couldn’t get clearance to head home after his daughter broke her arm.
It was fine with his driver, but 8-year-old Payton Ives would have none of that. She had surgery Saturday night to repair a broken arm, leaving the proud dad marveling at her toughness even as he celebrated Earnhardt’s victory Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
“She had a very significant break to her right arm, right above her elbow, had to get three pins last night,” Ives said after the race. “Dale offered to fly me home, (said) that it would be OK if I missed the race.”
“She’s my biggest fan, my biggest critic as well. I asked her if she wanted me to come home. She said no, it was my job to go out there and try to win the race. That’s the only thing that’s going to satisfy her.”
She should be happy with the results. This was the first Sprint Cup victory for Ives, who took over as crew chief this season.
He said his daughter fell out of a swing and landed awkwardly but didn’t even cry.
“She said it hurt but she wasn’t going to cry about it,” Ives said. He said thinking about the sacrifices of military families when they’re apart for long stretches helped put his own feeling of helplessness with the situation in perspective.
Plus, he doesn’t want the tough little girl mad at him — again. Payton let her displeasure be known after last week’s 14th-place finish at Richmond, saying he needed to give Earnhardt better cars.
Ives apparently knew the harsh critique was coming.
“After the Richmond race, I went into the hauler and was like, ‘Man, why are you so down?'” Earnhardt said, adding that his crew chief was worried about what Payton was going to say.
“That’s probably good that she keeps him honest.”
Earnhardt was more than willing to let Ives fly back to North Carolina to be with his little girl and turn race direction over to lead engineer Kevin Mendeering. He said this was a race where that absence would be easier to deal with.
“We’re going to take two tires pretty much every time,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to get as much gas as we need but never fill it up. It’s pretty self-explanatory so I felt like Kevin Mendeering could have called the race just as easy and just as well.
“Kevin’s a real talent just waiting to bust out and get an opportunity to crew chief. I felt like if there was ever a weekend that Greg could comfortably go home without any guilt, he could have done it last night without a problem. We would have fueled up the plane and sjent him.”
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