May 14, 1979 |
|Residence||Cornelius, North Carolina|
Steve Letarte (born May 14, 1979) is an American NASCAR crew chief. Born in Cornish, Maine, he is currently employed at Hendrick Motorsports as the crew chief for the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.. He first began as crew chief for Jeff Gordon when he took over the job of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet from Robbie Loomis in September 2005.
Letarte began working for Hendrick Motorsports part time in 1995. In 1996, at the age of 16, he joined the group full-time. From 1997 to 1999, he worked as a tire specialist for the #24 team. He then became a mechanic and finally car chief in 2002.
#24 crew chief
Letarte was promoted from car chief to crew chief after the #24 DuPont Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon missed the 2005 Chase for the NEXTEL Cup. He was promoted after 26 of the 36 races in the 2005 season.
In Letarte's sixth race as crew chief with Gordon, he visited victory lane for the first time in October 2005, winning the Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway, in Martinsville, Virginia. Gordon improved with three top-five finishes in the last five races of the 2005 season.
Entering the 2006 season, Hendrick Motorsports made wholesale changes to the #24 team. Gordon fought major handling issues at almost all of the intermediate racetracks, (1.5/2-mile downforce racetracks) which relegated Gordon to run outside of the top-ten and even outside of the top-fifteen. Gordon finished outside of the top-ten at California, Texas, Charlotte, and Pocono — all of which were downforce tracks.
When the series reached the 2-mile racetrack of Michigan International Speedway, near Brooklyn, Michigan, in mid-June, Gordon experienced a huge turnaround at a track that he had struggled at in previous season. Gordon led the most laps and finished eighth in a rain-shortened event; showing an instant improvement in Gordon's downforce program. For the first time since 2004, the #24 DuPont Chevrolet made the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.
Gordon experienced an up-and-down postseason in 2006. They finished in the top five in both of the first two races, but posted 39th and 36th place finishes in the next two events, due to a failed fuel pump in Kansas Speedway and an accident at Talladega Superspeedway. Gordon also experienced an engine failure with 33 laps to go at Charlotte which relegated the #24 to a 24th place finish.
Letarte and his team rebounded with finishes of: 5th at Martinsville, 6th at Atlanta, 9th at Texas, 4th at Phoenix and a 24th place finish at the season finale at Homestead, and ended the season 6th in the final points standings. Letarte's teammate, the #48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS which is driven by Jimmie Johnson and crew-chiefed by Chad Knaus, won the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Championship.
In 2007, Gordon finished the year with 6 wins, Gordon's highest total since 2001, and a series-leading 21 top-5s, the most scored in a season since 1999. The #24 team also finished with 30 top-10s, setting a new NASCAR modern era record for most top 10s in a single season. They dominated the points standings throughout much of the year, earning, in total, 353 more points than Jimmie Johnson's #48 team, and 706 more points than Tony Stewart's #20 team (who earned the third most points of any team in 2007). However, due to NASCAR's "Chase for the Cup" playoff system, in which the points are reset based on the number of wins each team accumulates throughout the "regular" season (the first 26 races), Gordon lost the championship. Their performance in the Chase was exceptionally good however, winning two races and scoring an average finish of 5.1, but it was not enough to outperform teammate Jimmie Johnson.
2008 would be a brutal reminder of how difficult racing in NASCAR's top series can be. Astonishingly, Gordon went winless for the first time since his rookie year in 1993. The team posted a respectable 19 top-10s and 13 top-5s en route to a 7th place finish in the season's final standings, but it was a disappointing follow-up to the 2007 season. Despite being the target of blame from many critics for the team's failures, Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick stood by the longtime Hendrick Motorsports employee and Letarte returned at the helm for 2009.
Gordon snapped his career-high 47-race winless streak with a victory in the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (one of only two tracks Gordon had yet to win at on the NASCAR circuit) on April 5, 2009. But alas, it would be Gordon's only win of the 2009 season. The team had a strong year however, finishing 3rd in the final standings and leading the series with both 16 top-5s and 25 top 10s. As an organization, Hendrick Motorsports finished an impressive 1-2-3 in the standings as Gordon finished third, Mark Martin finished second and Jimmie Johnson won his record-setting fourth-straight championship.
#88 crew chief
The pairing of Letarte and Earnhardt, Jr. showed strong results early in the 2011 season. On April 3, 2011, Earnhardt, Jr. held the lead late in the race at Martinsville Speedway, but was passed with less than 5 laps to go by Kevin Harvick who would drive on to victory. During the Coca-Cola 600, Earnhardt, Jr. held the lead on the final lap, but was forced to surrender the lead to Harvick when he ran out of fuel. In the very next race at Kansas Speedway, Letarte had called Earnhardt to pit road thinking that no drivers would be able to make it to the end on fuel. Unfortunately for Letarte and Earnhardt, Jr. Brad Keselowski was able to make it to the checkered flag and relegated the #88 to a 2nd place finish. Letarte led Earnhardt, Jr. back into the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship for the first time since the 2008 season. Despite failing to win a race during the course of the season, Earnhardt, Jr. scored 4 top five finishes and 12 top ten finishes. The #88 car finished the season in the 7th place in points.
Letarte and Earnhardt, Jr. continued together into the start of the 2012 season. The season started off strong with a 2nd place finish in the Gatorade Duel, followed by a second place finish in the Daytona 500. Earnhardt, Jr. finally broke into victory lane on June 17, 2012 by winning the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, snapping Earnhardt, Jr.'s 143 race winless streak.
Letarte and wife Tricia have two children, and live in Cornelius, North Carolina.
- Jeff Gordon - No. 24 DuPont Racing - Hendrick Motorsports
- New crew chiefs for Gordon, Martin & Earnhardt Jr. Jayski, November 23, 2010.
-  NASCAR.com, April 4, 2011.
-  NASCAR.com, May 30, 2011.
-  NASCAR.com, June 8, 2011.
-  NASCAR.com, November 20, 2011.
-  NASCAR.com, February 28, 2012.
-  NASCAR.com, June 19, 2012.