Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Steve Letarte wins the Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence

Steve Letarte won the HMS Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence for 2011.
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

Steve Letarte has been awarded the highest honor at Hendrick Motorsports: The Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence.

Founded in 1995 as the Robert Gee Award, the Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence has been bestowed each year on the member of the Hendrick Motorsports organization who most embodies the values, principles and ideals of the company. On Tuesday, Letarte was announced as the latest recipient.

The Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence is a well-deserved honor for Letarte for his hard work in 2011. Being a new crew chief to a new driver isn’t always easy, but Letarte proved just how a little teamwork goes a long way.

Letarte had the weight of the world on his shoulders heading into the 2011 season. He took on a job that required big shoes to fill, becoming the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team. In addition to that, Letarte faced the fans of "Junior Nation" through the good, bad and the ugly. Not many crew chiefs can weather those storms, but Letarte proved he definitely can.

Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in NASCAR, hit a rough patch the past few years. Could Letarte get Earnhardt back to being a winning driver who competes for wins?

Not only did Letarte get Earnhardt back to being competitive, but Earnhardt made the Chase, something he hasn't done in over two years. Letarte proved that with good feedback and a positive attitude, anything is possible. It was also refreshing to see the carefree, laid-back Earnhardt Jr. again - something fans have not seen in a long while.

Letarte proved that a change in driver wouldn’t hold him back, that he’d still be the greatest crew chief that he knows how to be. He took on a hard task being Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief, but he took it in great stride. It was a task that many said he’d fail at; however, he proved them all wrong.

Letarte may not have broken Earnhardt’s winless streak yet, but he did get NASCAR’s most popular driver back in the Chase as well as returned that missing fire inside of Junior.

Building on the progress of 2011, Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. head into the 2012 season looking forward.

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