DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he has known for some time his crew chief, Steve Letarte, was contemplating a career change after this season.
He also has no doubts the two of them can continue their successful three-year relationship this season and contend for wins and the Sprint Cup Series championship.
What concerns him is what comes next.
“I think the one thing that I fear is just trying to get a guy in there that’s equally as talented,” Earnhardt said before preseason testing Friday. “Steve is a great cheerleader and definitely built up my confidence and changed me as a race car driver and as a person.
“Working with him has really helped me grow. I think you guys have all seen that over the last several years.”
The past three seasons have been Earnhardt’s most successful since he arrived at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. He has qualified for the Chase all three seasons after missing the cut two of his first three seasons at HMS.
“I’m not worried about the specific qualities that Steve has,” he said. “But just will we be able to get a guy in there of equal talent, and how well will we be able to make that transition seamless?
“It’s going to be a real challenge to do that, and I guess that’s my only concern.”
Earnhardt said he isn’t interested in offering input on his new crew chief. In fact, he had no say when team owner Rick Hendrick paired Letarte with him three years ago.
He wants to leave it up to others at HMS.
“I would love to have input from (six-time Cup champion crew chief) Chad Knaus and Steve,” Earnhardt said. “I think Steve knows what makes this team work. Steve knows how I can be successful and how the individuals within the team can be successful.
“And I think it’s important that Chad has got a lot of influence because he knows how well the shop works together and what the culture is in the shop and how a particular guy may mesh in that environment.”
Fans help decide Sprint Unlimited format
For the second year in a row, fans will decide upon a number of competition elements for the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, the 75-lap, non-points race that kicks off the 2014 Cup season on Feb. 15.
Fans can now cast votes to set the number of laps in each of the three segments, while also voting on how drivers will line up at the start of the race and how they will line up for the restart of the final segment.
Fans can submit their votes within the official NASCAR app, NASCAR Mobile, or at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited.
NASCAR changes manufacturer points system
NASCAR has restructured its manufacturer points system for 2014, simplifying it for fans, competition and the industry.
Points will be awarded to the single highest finisher for each car manufacturer in each championship event according to the finishing position awarded for each race. Three additional bonus points will be awarded to the manufacturer that wins the race. The single highest finisher for each manufacturer will receive one additional bonus point for leading a lap, and one additional bonus point for leading the most laps.
At the end of the season, if two or more manufacturers have the same number of points, the championship will be awarded to the manufacturer with the greatest number of wins.
Parrott reinstated by NASCAR
Earlier this week NASCAR reinstated former Cup series crew chief Todd Parrott upon his successful completion of NASCAR’s Substance Abuse Policy Road to Recovery Program.
Parrott, who won the 1999 Cup championship with driver Dale Jarrett, had been suspended indefinitely from NASCAR in October for violating the substance abuse policy.