No rush: Hendrick waiting to name 2015 crew chief for Junior
NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick said he’s in no hurry to find a replacement for Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Letarte, who is starting his fourth season as Earnhardt’s crew chief, is leaving the team at the end of the year to become a NASCAR television analyst in the NBC booth with Rick Allen and Jeff Burton. In nine years as a crew chief with Hendrick, Letarte has never had a season where his primary driver finished worse than 12th in points.
Earnhardt is coming off a fifth-place finish in points, his best since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
Selection of his next crew chief will be critical, but Hendrick said the team could afford to be patient.
"There’s no reason to rush that," Hendrick said. "We’ve got another whole year to race, and we’ve got a deep bench of talent in our organization. Stevie was a car chief and then became a crew chief. We’ve got layers of guys. We’ve had two or three of our top engineers that we’ve let other teams have, like Ganassi, that’s got two of our engineers. We’ve got the Nationwide guys (at JR Motorsports). We’ve got a lot of people to pick from."
To Hendrick’s point, both Sprint Cup crew chiefs at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates are former Hendrick engineers: Chris Heroy, who used to be Earnhardt’s engineer, is crew chief for Kyle Larson now, and former Kasey Kahne engineer Keith Rodden is about to start his rookie season with Jamie McMurray. Another Hendrick graduate, Darian Grubb, is Denny Hamlin’s crew chief.
Team owner Hendrick said personalities will play a big role in the final selection.
"It’s going to be that the ‘fit factor’ comes in," said Hendrick, referring to the fact that the No. 88 shares a shop at Hendrick with the No. 48 team of driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus. "That car (Earnhardt’s) is in Chad’s shop and he and Stevie work really well together."
Knaus said he would like input into the final selection.
"I haven’t been asked anything yet," said Knaus. "I don’t know how much work’s been put into it. I know a lot of people have called me, and I’ve just directed them all to Rick. That’s outside of my wheelhouse right now. I hope that I do have a little bit of input. Obviously, the way our shop runs — the 48/88 shop is, I think, a really big factor of how our team performs on the racetrack."
But for now, there’s no rush.
"We’re not worried about a replacement," Hendrick said. "We’ll worry about that towards the end of the year."