Dale Jr.'s crew chief sticking by plan to leave
June 08, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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LONG POND, Pa. -- He's overseeing Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s best season in a decade, but crew chief Steve Letarte isn't second-guessing his decision to step away from the pit box at the end of this year.
Beginning with the 2015 campaign Letarte will become a race analyst for NBC, which returns as a NASCAR broadcast partner next year. And those plans will not change, even though Earnhardt on Sunday clinched his first multi-victory season at the sport's top level since he won six times with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2004.
"You guys only get to see the great stuff, which is a win at Daytona and a win here, but Saturday of Kansas my little girl had her first communion and I was in Kansas," Letarte, who has two small children, said in the media center.
"When moments like that happen, it reaffirms why I made my decision. I love my job. I've loved my job for 20 years. I love the people I work with. I consider Dale and some other guys on this team my best friends in the world. The best man in my wedding is on my race team. This is my life. This is how I was raised. But I chose nine years ago, 10 years ago, 11 years ago now to have a family, and when I made that decision, that was not a casual decision, that was a decision for the next ‑‑ forever."
Letarte, 35, moved from Jeff Gordon's team to a then-foundering program of Hendrick Motorsports stablemate Earnhardt prior to the 2011 campaign. In the time since he's played a central role in reviving the career of NASCAR's most popular driver, who opened this season with a victory in the Daytona 500. But all along, the 13-time race-winning crew chief has made his family the long-term priority.
"You know, I feel as much as I love my job, they have to come first," Letarte said. "Six‑and‑a‑half days a week I think I'm really going to love my new job, and there's four hours on Sunday I have no idea how I'm going to replace it yet. So I'll have to find a hobby, I think."
With Sunday's win, Earnhardt's second of the year and first at Pocono, the driver of the No. 88 team moved to third in points and tied Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and teammate Jimmie Johnson for the series lead in victories.
Earnhardt wonders if his crew chief's looming departure is one reason for the team's success.
"I think that also adds some drive and determination to the team to do the best that they can," Earnhardt said. "That could be dangerous."