Steve Letarte’s future will include a career filled with endless possibilities.
But the present offers many rewards.
Letarte, 35, is in his final season as crew chief for Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and will become an analyst next season for NBC Sports’ NASCAR TV coverage. Hendrick Motorsports has been Letarte’s only home in NASCAR.
This season quickly is becoming one of his most successful and especially so with Earnhardt, with whom he has been paired since the start of the 2011 season. Last week, Greg Ives was named Letarte’s replacement beginning next year.
With five races remaining before the 16-driver Chase field is set, Earnhardt has three victories and would enter the Chase as the No. 1 seed.
“The garage is full of great competitors, and the Chase is going to be different than we have ever seen,” Letarte said. “No one knows how it’s going to be, we all have our predictions. We’ll see who is right.”
After Earnhardt’s victory Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Letarte talked about his approach to the rest of the season, turning the crew chief reigns over to Ives and his relationship with Rick Hendrick.
Q: Are you starting to feel like this maybe could be a magical season, any kind of a championship season, even though it’s still a long way off?
A: I dream of the Red Sox winning the World Series. I dream of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. I don’t dream of the winning the championship. Hope is not a strategy, it doesn’t get you there. Dreaming is not a strategy, it doesn’t get you there. So, I don’t let anything like that or try not to let anything like that distract us. Hard work is a strategy and that’s what we try to do.
The best advice my dad ever gave me was as I was reading the sports page one day and I was reading the front and he told me to flip to the back, because all the small print in the back, that’s the facts. That’s really what happened. Everything else is just a story and those were the results.
Q: Will there be any kind of mentoring program with Ives this year, or will he just have to go it alone next year?
A: I think Greg is a remarkable talent. I think he’s going to do a great job. I think he’s going to make me look bad. He’s a really smart guy. I’ll do whatever. Nothing’s been discussed. I will embrace Greg and the opportunity that they feel will help him for next year. But, we all have to remember that Chase Elliott has a great opportunity to win a Nationwide championship for JR Motorsports with Greg as his crew chief. We have a great opportunity to win a championship, or at least compete for a championship in the Chase, with the No. 88 car. I’ll do whatever the boss tells me to do, and I’ll do it happily.
Q: What has Rick Hendrick meant to you?
A: Over the time I’ve got to know Rick and the boss is the guy that I don’t talk to a lot. I don’t need to. We have always had a very mutual understanding of what my position is, what my responsibility is. I pride myself on a guy that doesn’t need direction on a daily or weekly basis. It’s pretty clear to me what my job is. But he’s the kind of guy that through the low times in your life you can lean on and you don’t worry about talking to him about it. You don’t worry that you’re talking to really your boss and owner and kind of opening yourself up for a lot of ridicule or judgment or question that maybe you can’t do your job.
People don’t work at Hendrick Motorsports because we win races. People work at Hendrick Motorsports because they want to work for Rick Hendrick and that’s a big difference.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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