Letarte, Dale Jr.'s crew chief, to join NBC Sports
January 09, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Steve Letarte, the crew chief who has helped return Dale Earnhardt Jr. to prominence in NASCAR's premier series, will leave his post at Hendrick Motorsports after this coming season to become a television analyst for NBC Sports.
NBC confirmed the pending move Thursday, the opening day of the NASCAR Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona International Speedway. Letarte has won 11 races in nine seasons as crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series, and oversaw Earnhardt's most recent victory in the summer of 2012. Letarte also finished second in final points with Jeff Gordon in 2007.
Letarte will join fellow analyst Jeff Burton and race announcer Rick Allen in the booth when NBC returns as a NASCAR television partner beginning with the 2015 season. Letarte was not available for comment Thursday, according to a team spokesperson. NBC officials have a media briefing scheduled in Daytona for Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET; video of the announcement will be streamed live at NASCAR.com/presspass.
"I've always been impressed with Steve Letarte's interviews, and feel smarter after hearing him break down the crucial elements of each race," Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports, said in a statement released by the network. "It wasn't long into our first meeting about this potential role on our broadcast team when I realized that Steve is going to be 'Must See TV.' "
Letarte has worked for Hendrick since he was 16, ascending to the crew chief's role with Gordon in the final weeks of the 2005 season. He will maintain his current role atop the No. 88 pit box for the duration of the 2014 season.
"As soon as I met with Sam Flood and his team at NBC Sports it became obvious to me how excited they were to be covering NASCAR in 2015 and beyond. Their excitement, along with my love for racing, solidified my decision to move away from the pit box and into the broadcast booth," Letarte said in a statement. "I want to thank Rick Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for the opportunities they have given me over the last 18 years, and I want to reaffirm my commitment to Dale Jr. and the entire 88 team to go win races and challenge for the championship in 2014."
Letarte's departure will leave a void at Hendrick, given that the Maine native has proven crucial in turning around Earnhardt's fortunes. Earnhardt had finished 25th and 21st in Sprint Cup points in the two seasons prior to his pairing with Letarte in 2011, but his new crew chief's positive reinforcement produced improvement that was almost immediate. Earnhardt's fifth-place result in 2013 was his best since 2006.
"You never want to see a talented and all-around quality person like Steve (Letarte) move on, but we understand this is an exciting opportunity for him and his family," team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. "He has all the tools to be a terrific broadcaster, and I know our fans will enjoy hearing his perspective. We're looking forward to a successful year in 2014 with Steve and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) leading the No. 88 together. They have some of the best chemistry in the garage, and we know they'll build on last season and continue to be a championship-contending team.
"We don't expect to address the crew chief position until after the season. Everyone with the team is focused on 2014 and committed to having another great year."
NASCAR and NBC Sports Group reached an agreement in July of last year that grants NBC Universal exclusive rights to the final 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, final 19 NASCAR Nationwide Series events, select NASCAR Regional and Touring Series events, and other live content beginning in 2015. Of NBC Sports Group’s 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, seven will be carried on NBC annually, with 13 airing on NBC Sports Network. Four of NBC Sports Group’s 19 NASCAR Nationwide Series races will air on NBC, with 15 airing on NBC Sports Network.