Steve Letarte became Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s third crew chief since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, which begs the question, "Why is it so difficult to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief?" Junior seems like an affable guy, he’s backed by one of the strongest owners in NASCAR, he’s got his own theme song and the team works side-by-side with five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. So why is there more turnover here than a McDonalds short order cook?
Here are the top five challenges to being Junior’s crew chief.
Ninety-three races ago in victory lane at Michigan, crew chief Tony Eury Jr. promised he would do the dishes until Dale Jr. won his next race. It’s been over two years and Dale’s crew chief is still scrubbing every plate. A high placed official at Hendricks Motorsports said off-the-record that the "Dishes Promise" is the primary reason Dale Jr. refuses to return to Victory Lane.
Denim jeans may be currency in some places, but not in Charlotte. Steve Letarte makes a healthy six-figure salary at Hendrick measured solely in the street value of all the jeans he earns. In order to convert the jeans to American dollars, they must be packaged, shipped and sold on the Japanese black market. It’s a complicated process that requires bribing a number of US Customs officers and members of the Yakuza, Japan’s mafia.
One of pillars of the driver-crew chief bond is going on double dates. For single crew chiefs, Dale always promises to set up the chief with a friend of whomever is his current actress/model girlfriend. Dale always insists that the friend is also a hot model… but she never is. She’s usually a scorned librarian or embittered dentist prone to fits of rage.
Junior built his own Old West Saloon to host home poker games, but never got the knack of how to play. In order to keep his driver happy, every crew chief has had to bluff his way into losing to Dale Jr. It’s a tall order when you are poker ace Steve "Pocket Queens" Letarte, better known as "The King of Hearts of Cornish, Maine." ("King of Hearts" for all the ladies’ hearts he’s broken).
Trapped in the RV during a three-hour rain delay feels like an eternity when all you can watch are Dale’s favorite show, The Jersey Shore. It’s not that he watches the show, it’s that he refuses to fast forward through the perpetual train wreck that is Sammie and Ronnie’s relationship as they rehash the same argument episode after episode.