Gordon, Dale Jr. get new crew chiefs
Hendrick Motorsports named Steve Letarte crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 NASCAR Sprint Cup team on Tuesday as part of a three-car crew chief shift for the organization.
Letarte, who has been working with driver Jeff Gordon, moves to Earnhardt's team while Lance McGrew will join Mark Martin with the No. 5 team in the organization. Gordon will work with Alan Gustafson, who led Martin's team to a runner-up finish in the 2009 Cup standings. The only Hendrick team left intact is that of Jimmie Johnson, who just won his fifth consecutive Cup title with crew chief Chad Knaus.
McGrew began working with Earnhardt at Dover International Speedway in June 2009. The team finished 12th that day and posted just one top-five finish and two top-10s that season, failing to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup after Earnhardt finished a career-worst 25th in the points standings.
This season the team opened with a front-row start in the Daytona 500 and finished second to Jamie McMurray. It was Earnhardt’s best run of the season. Although NASCAR’s most popular driver improved his stats with three top-fives, eight top-10’s and a pole (at the spring Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway), he finished 21st in the points and missed the Chase for the second consecutive season and the third time in four years.
Earnhardt’s Cup career began with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in May 1999. He earned the first of his 18 career wins at Texas Motor Speedway the following spring in his first full season of Cup competition. Since moving to Hendrick for the 2008 Cup season, originally with his cousin and crew chief Tony Eury Jr., he’s scored just one win.
Given that it has been 92 races since Earnhardt’s only victory for Hendrick, which came in June 2008 at Michigan International Speedway, it is not surprising the organization made a change.
Letarte, a longtime Hendrick employee, just completed his fifth full season with Gordon. They won only once in the past three years, however, they made the Chase in each of those five seasons. Letarte was a member of Gordon's crew for each of his four titles.
Gustafson originally was a crew chief with Kyle Busch at Hendrick, moving to join Martin when he joined Hendrick. Gustafson has nine wins and nine pole positions as a crew chief and led Martin to his runner-up finish in the 2009 standings.
In another team move, the shop alignment was altered. The cars of Martin and Gordon will be fielded out of the same facility, now known as the 5/24 shop. Earnhardt's Chevrolets will be prepared out of the renamed 48/88 shop alongside those of Johnson.
"This will improve us as an organization, across the board," owner Rick Hendrick said. "We had a championship season (in 2010), but we weren't where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams. We've made the right adjustments, and I'm excited to go racing with this lineup."