Dale Earnhardt Jr. will now be looking for a new crew chief for the 2015 season after Steve Letarte recently announced that he would be leaving the sport in his present position at the end of this season. Letarte will move into the broadcast booth for NBC once coverage of the Sprint Cup season starts in 2015.
Letarte is one of the most visible individuals in the Cup garage, as he was crew chief for Jeff Gordon’s legendary #24 team before being moved over to Earnhardt Jr.’s #88 team. The chemistry that Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. have established is some of the best in the sport and the results show it. Their first season together was in 2011 and since then they have one win and 24 top-5 and 54 top-10 finishes in 106 starts.
Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said that he has no plans at this time to address the new crew chief position until the conclusion of this season. That gives HMS 10 months to find a replacement and the names that will be available for one of the most highly sought after jobs in the sport will no doubt read like a who’s who in the sport.
It could be that Letarte’s announcement that he is leaving will unofficially begin the sport’s silly season fueled by the media’s reports of what crew chiefs or drivers will be moving at the end of the season and where they may end up. Both Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. need to go ahead and practice answering the questions that they will have to endure anytime they are approached by a member of the press about how the leaving will impact their season.
This is the last season of the present TV contract that has the Cup schedule being shared by four different networks, but all of that will change next season when the new contract kicks in that only includes the networks of FOX and NBC. NBC will broadcast the final 20 races of the season including the 10 races that make up the Chase that determines the season’s champion.
Letarte will be joined in the broadcast booth by race announcer Rick Allen and former Cup driver Jeff Burton. The trio will not just be limited to race broadcasts as the network also plans to use them in pre- and post-race shows, qualifying and studio programming.
PIT NOTES: Last week’s testing at Daytona had a distinctive old school feeling to it as two of the sport’s greatest drivers returned to help in testing. Bill Elliott was in Daytona to help shake down a car for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports that will be used by Earnhardt Jr. in Daytona’s Nationwide race in February. He will be joined on the track by his son Chase, who has been hired to drive full time for JR Motorsports that is associated with Hendrick Motorsports. His Chevrolet will be sponsored by NAPA and it will carry the #9 that just happens to be the number used by his father during the bulk of his Cup career that included the 1988 Sprint Cup Championship.
Joining Elliott at Daytona was former Penske Racing driver Rusty Wallace. Wallace, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year, was there to share some of the testing duties with present Penske driver Brad Keselowski. Rusty at one time was part owner of Penske Racing along with Roger Penske and Don Miller that put together the sponsorship deal with Miller Brewing, which is still on the side of the famous #2 Ford.
It is one of the more storied rides in all of NASCAR and it all began when Rusty was behind the wheel. Since Keselowski took over, he has taken it to the next level by winning the 2012 title.