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Utter: Still no reason to doubt crew chief Letarte, despite recent success with Earnhardt Jr.

By Jim Utter
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/11/22/04/o7ie1.Em.138.jpeg|218
    Jeff Siner - MCT
    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., middle, listens to crew chief Steve Letarte and a crewman talk following practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord on May 24.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/11/22/04/QV6A9.Em.138.jpeg|385
    Jeff Siner - MCT
    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief Steve Letarte, left, and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. watch members of the team make adjustments to the car following practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord on May 24.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/08/19/00/8cU96.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Daniel Shirey - Getty Images
    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 08: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout in front of his team after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 8, 2014 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/08/19/00/EkHJk.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Daniel Shirey - Getty Images
    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 08: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 8, 2014 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

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Some things might not be as difficult as they appear in NASCAR.

When Steve Letarte announced that he was giving up his job as crew chief for driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. at year’s end to work in the NBC Sports broadcast booth, there were many who questioned his decision.

Then, when he and Earnhardt won the Daytona 500, the doubts he actually would walk away grew louder.

That’s not because Letarte’s word can’t be trusted but because of the culture in NASCAR, which for many goes like this: Work your tail off to win, savor the win for about five minutes and then restart the process.

Letarte won his first Daytona 500; surely he would want another. He could win his first Sprint Cup Series championship with Earnhardt this season; surely he would want another.

There are some things more important than racing, though. And after another victory with Earnhardt last weekend at Pocono (Pa.), Letarte offered a fairly simple explanation why he won’t be changing his mind.

“You guys only get to see the great stuff, which is a win at Daytona and a win here,” Letarte said. “But Saturday (May 10) of Kansas my little girl had her first communion and I was in Kansas. When moments like that happen, it reaffirms why I made my decision.

“I’ve loved my job for 20 years. I love the people I work with. 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 … forever.”

Successful drivers, crew chiefs and car owners can enjoy productive careers for decades but forever is forever.

Thanks for the reminder, Steve.

Notes

Lynda Petty wins Spirit Award: Lynda Petty, the wife of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, was named the first-quarter recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Spirit Award. Lynda Petty died March 25. She was 72.

She was one of the founding members of the Racing Wives Auxiliary, a charitable organization that provided assistance to those in need within the racing community.

The award recognizes character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.

Tire changes at Michigan: Cup teams will be using new right-side tire combinations this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. The tires were chosen after April tests at the speedway and adoptod from the versions used at Kansas this season. Left-side tired combinations remain unchanged from last season. The minimum recommended air pressure for all tires also was increased.

Montoya returns to NASCAR: Juan Pablo Montoya, who is competing fulltime for Team Penske in the IndyCar Series, is scheduled to run Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan, one of two NASCAR races on his schedule this season.

Montoya will run the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske. In 14 races at Michigan, Montoya has three top-10 finishes.

Montoya, who also will race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during July, is seventh in IndyCar points with three top-five finishes.

Trucks return to St. Louis: Gateway Motorsports Park, located in suburban St. Louis, will host the Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, the first NASCAR Truck race there in four years. Ron Hornaday is the lone previous winner schedule to compete at the track, which held truck races from 1998 until 2010.

Hornish Jr. to make third start: Sam Hornish Jr. will return to the Nationwide Series this weekend, making his third start of the season in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hornish won in his last series appearance, last month at Iowa. He has made four starts at Michigan with one top-10 finish.

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