TRUE CONTENDERS ONCE MORE
(FAR LEFT) Through the
first 20 races of 2012,
Dale had become the
only driver to complete
every lap of every race.
(LEFT) Rick Hendrick,
the man who kept the
faith…along with Dale’s
legions of fans (BELOW).
Born May 14, 1979/Cornish, Maine
•;Began working for Hendrick
Motorsports in 1996 at the age of 16
•;Became a tire specialist on Jeff
Gordon’s No. 24 crew in ’ 97
•;Best season as Gordon’s crew chief
was ’07, when they finished runner-up
•;Switched to No. 88 for the start of ’ 11
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Letarte saw 14 wins as Gordon’s car chief,
with Jeff finishing fourth, third and third
in the championship from 2002 to ’04.
you got. And, as a result, I found there was
a lot more I could do to help the people
around me who were trying to help me.
Promoted to crew chief when the No. 24
failed to make the Chase in ’05, Steve and
Jeff took just six races to win at Martinsville.
Matthe w T. Thacker/LAT
No one person is
bigger than the
sport, so they say.
But NASCAR knows
a successful Dale Jr.
is good for everyone.
Junior has been
Most Popular Driver
for the past nine
years. Imagine the
fan and media
frenzy if he’s still in
A RISING TIDE
FLOATS ALL BOATS
What were you looking for in each other
– and seeing – that made you confident
that this would work? And when do you
think that confidence was justified?
EARNHARDT Las Vegas race last year.
LETARTE Yeah, I’d have to agree that
Vegas was a huge weekend for us,
without a doubt. Daytona was kind of
Daytona; we had a rough time there
considering our pace – we crashed, but
we were fast. We had the pole, but we had
lows as well as highs. Then, at Vegas, I
don’t think we knew what to expect. We
went there and didn’t qualify good and
we were not where we wanted to be in
race trim; we just didn’t really do anything
special. So we just spent some time
together after practice and got the
engineers involved. And then I think just
50 laps into the Vegas race we were
running well – inside the top 10 – and
I think that gave us a lot of confidence
that we could make this work.
EARNHARDT Yeah. We’d gone to
Daytona and I wrecked the car but
qualified on pole, and then we wrecked in
the race and I was feeling pretty down.
And then we went to Phoenix and ran
poorly, but we finished well. But we never
had any speed, even though we went to a
big test at Phoenix and worked really
hard. We’d done a lot together, but the
whole thing wasn’t coming together, and I
felt like I was suffering more of the same
from previous years. And I thought,
“What the hell? I’m in a totally new
environment but I’m sort of seeing the
same results.” And then when we rolled
out in Vegas, we struggled in practice.
So that’s when we sat down and we
talked about it for about four hours and
came up with a plan and the car drove
A 47-race winless streak was broken at Texas
in ’09, and they finished third in the series.
But a winless ’ 10 prompted a switch at HMS.