Dale Earnhardt Jr. Loses Crew Chief

3:50 PM, Jan 10, 2014   |    comments
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, Steve Latarte (left) will leave will leave his current role for an analyst job at NBC Sports beginning in 2015.(Photo: Davis Turner, USA TODAY Sports)via USA TODAY
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 Jeff Gluck, USA TODAY Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. first caught wind of an alarming rumor last October at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Crew chief Steve Letarte was thinking about leaving the team, Earnhardt heard -- and it came as a "huge shock" to the driver.

"I didn't know the specifics of what he was thinking about doing, (but) just that he would even want to do anything different blew me away," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt summoned Letarte to the driver's motorhome, where he learned more details about what Letarte was considering: A surprising move to quit crew-chiefing and instead become a television analyst for NBC Sports' NASCAR broadcasts beginning in 2015.

Before Letarte ever made his final decision, which was announced Thursday, Earnhardt had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be.






"For me personally, it was difficult," Earnhardt said of his initial reaction. "But the more I sat down with him and talked about it, the more it made sense and the more I understood his situation - and I could put my own selfishness aside and kind of understand what was important to him and how this was good for him."

Letarte, 34, will crew chief for one more season with Earnhardt and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team, then step into the broadcast booth alongside driver Jeff Burton and play-by-play announcer Rick Allen.

It was a family-based decision first, Letarte said Friday during a news conference at Daytona International Speedway. With two children at home - ages 8 and 10 - Letarte will get off the road for half the year (NBC has the final 20 races of the season beginning in 2015) and won't be required to pull long shifts in an office during the week.

"If I'm going to be unsuccessful in anything I do, being a father shouldn't be on the list," Letarte said.

A secondary reason? Letarte's admittedly "colorful personality" will translate well to TV and he's been angling toward a media job for the last few years.

"I like to talk about the sport," he said. "I like to talk to people."

Earnhardt understands how good Letarte could be on TV - and why having a solid booth is important for the sport as a whole. He said the crew chief would be "incredible in that role."





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