NASCAR

NSCS: Junior Gives Thoughts On Loss Of Letarte

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Photo Credit: Getty Images via NASCAR

 

By: Brian Eberly – NASCAR/IndyCar Contributor (@beberly18)

January 10, 2014

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.– Dale Earnhardt, Jr. met with the media on Friday morning prior to the start of practice at Daytona International Speedway.  While the cars never made it on track Thursday due to rain there were still plenty of questions for NASCAR’s most popular driver.  It was announced yesterday that crew chief Steve Letarte would be leaving his post at the end of the 2014 season to take an analyst job with NBC Sports.

While the announcement comes as a surprise to much of Junior Nation, it’s something that Earnhardt has known about for a while.  “I had a pretty good understanding what his decision was going to be when I left Homestead,” Earnhardt said.  “So I’ve had time to really wrap my brain around it.  It was hard because we are such good friends, and I really do enjoy working with him a lot.”

While the news first came as a shock, Earnhardt is excited for Letarte’s new opportunity.  “It was hard because we are such good friends, and I really do enjoy working with him a lot.  But at the same time I’m happy for him because it gives him the opportunity to spend time with his family.  I’m excited for him because I know he’s really looking forward to it.  You can tell when he talks about it how genuinely enthused he is about the opportunity.”

The chemistry between Letarte and Earnhardt has been a major factor in the team making the Chase for the Sprint Cup the past three seasons after finishing outside the top 20 in points for back-to-back seasons prior to Letarte coming on board the No. 88 pit box.

Fans of the No. 88 shouldn’t worry about the team’s 2014 performance, as Earnhardt has no concerns about the upcoming season.  “I know that we’re going to be fine as far as how we’ll compete this year and how dedicated and how me might move through the process of the season.  I expect us to do nothing less than improve on what we’ve been doing and steadily keep moving toward our goals.”

While 2014 is the focus at this point, Earnhardt can’t help but think about Letarte’s replacement.  “I think that my fear is just we can’t replace Steve.  It’s a guy that’s going to be hard to replace.  I’m not worried about the specific qualities that Steve has, but just will we be able to get a guy in there of equal talent, and how well will we be able to make this transition seamless.  It’s going to be a real challenge to do that, and I guess that’s my only concern.”

While Earnhardt expressed his fears about finding a replacement, he indicated he wants the search left up to Rick Hendrick and the rest of the management team.

If any team is capable of juggling the upcoming season along with the search for Letarte’s predecessor, it’s Hendrick Motorsports.  “I feel confident that HMS can get it all done,” Earnhardt said.

And what better way for Earnhardt and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team to send Letarte off to the NBC booth than by winning the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.  That quest will begin when the green flag drops on the Daytona 500 in just a few short weeks.

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About Brian Eberly

Brian Eberly (@beberly18) is a Certified Public Accountant and Manager of Field Accounting at a transportation company, but when he isnt at the office you can most likely find him at a racetrack, watching a race on television, or following the action on social media. Eberly became interested in NASCAR in the nineties when Jeff Gordon was dominating the scene, and became hooked when he attended his first race with his dad in 1999 at Michigan International Speedway. Eberly has been writing about NASCAR since 2012 for various websites. An Illinois native and Northern Illinois University graduate, Eberly travels throughout the Midwest covering racing events in multiple series. When not following racing, he can be found on the golf course (usually trying to find his golf ball) and following the Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, Bulls, and of course the NIU Huskies.

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