Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a different crew chief in 2015, as Steve Letarte is leaving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team at the end of the season to become an analyst for NBC Sports.
The 34-year-old crew chief will join play-by-play announcer Rick Allen and driver Jeff Burton in the NBC Sports broadcasting booth. Letarte has previous experience as analyst working for the Motor Racing Network and the Pay-Per-View coverage of the Prelude to The Dream.
"I want to thank Rick Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for the opportunities they have given me over the last eighteen years," Letarte said in a release. "And I want to reaffirm my commitment to Dale Jr. and the entire No. 88 team to go win races and challenge for the championship in 2014."
Letarte is widely regarded as the catalyst for the resurgence that NASCAR's most popular driver has experienced in recent seasons. Before his arrival in 2011, Earnhardt had finished 21st and 25th in points and was largely uncompetitive. But in the three years since being paired with LeTarte, Earnhardt has qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup each season.
Although the pair have collected just one win in their time together (Michigan, 2012), Earnhardt did have five runner-up finishes in 2013 and ended the year ranked fifth in the standings, his best points finish in eight years.
Married with two children, Letarte began working at Hendrick at 16 sweeping the floors. He gradually moved up through the company before being named Jeff Gordon's crew chief in 2005. In a statement the team issued Thursday, owner Rick Hendrick lauded Letarte's talent and said he has the "tools to make to be a terrific broadcaster."
No replacement has been named for Letarte, and Hendrick said he "expects" no decision to be made before the conclusion of the season. The organization has several viable in-house candidates.
"We're looking forward to a successful year in 2014 with Steve and Dale leading the No. 88 together," Hendrick said. "They have some of the best chemistry in the garage, and we know they'll build on last season and continue to be a championship-contending team."