Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte prove a successful pairing for Rick Hendrick


With two races remaining, all is not lost on the 2011 season for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and for Junior Nation.  Although his winless streak is still holding, with top finishes of 2nd at Martinsville and Kansas, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte made valuable gains with the No. 88 team this season. 

In just their first year working together, Earnhardt and Letarte have earned 12 top-10 and four top-five finishes in 34 races whereas last year the No. 88 team had only 8 top-10 and three top-five finishes.

During today’s NASCAR teleconference I asked Earnhardt about the formula for their success. Is there one thing that has clicked for them, or is it just more a general meeting of the minds that the duo has hit on for them to make such strides in their freshman year together?

“Yeah, I was thinking about it after the Texas race. Me and Steve haven't had one argument the entire year. I've had some choice words for the racecar, but we've never had a disagreement. I can't think of one year in my entire career where I went an entire season without some sort of disagreement at some point with my crew chief,” said Earnhardt.

He continued, “I'm happy to give him all the credit. I'm not sure exactly where the credit lies, but I'm happy to give it to him because he has such responsibility and he has a heck of a workload and he works very hard at what he's done. He's very observant and thinks really hard about what he's doing, how he's doing it, how it's going to affect everything around him. I can really appreciate him.” 

Continuing to praise Letarte, Earnhardt went on to say,” I think that in turn, the way he operates, makes me and everyone else on the team sort of jump on the wagon with him and want to help, want to push it along and help. So he's good at that. He's good at his position.”
With his recent frustrations in Texas, Letarte was the calming force for Earnhardt. “I was telling him after Texas, I really hated the car in the middle part of the race. He made some changes. They worked hard. We ended up with a good finish. I thought the car was quite competitive at the end. I told him, that’s why you're a Cup-level crew chief because of what you did today. I thought he should be really proud of himself and what he's been able to do with this team,” Earnhardt said. 

Notably, Earnhardt is a changed man this year both on and off the track. But it seems as though Steve Letarte has been his voice of reason when things go wrong.

“I think I open the door a lot of times for things to go negatively in our communication. I've been working really hard at that, to try to change that. But I do open the door a lot of times to sort of invite him into disagreement. He's pretty good at avoiding it. He's really good at it,” Earnhardt said. 

With their first season together almost in the books, this pairing is proving to be a success for Rick Hendrick. Letarte has worked with Jeff Gordon, knows how to coach a winning driver, and knows how to tune a car. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR, has the support and adoration of Junior Nation and is thisclose to getting a win. Hold tight Junior Nation – it’s coming soon.
Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte prove a successful pairing for Rick Hendrick Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte prove a successful pairing for Rick Hendrick Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, November 08, 2011 Rating: 5