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Steve Letarte leaving post as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief for NBC Sports in 2015

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(Boston Globe)

Jeff Burton isn't the only big hire that NBC Sports has made for its coverage of NASCAR.

Steve Letarte, the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., will step down from his post at Hendrick Motorsports and join NBC Sports for the 2015 NASCAR season. NBC picks up coverage of the final 20 races of the season from ESPN and TNT starting next season.

“I want to thank Rick Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for the opportunities they have given me over the last eighteen years, 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 said in an NBC statement.

Earlier Thursday, Letarte told MRN's Dave Moody that “I will be the crew chief for the No. 88 Chevrolet in in 2014. That’s all I know right now."

Previously, NBC has announced the hire of Rick Allen, currently the play-by-play voice of the Camping World Truck Series and Burton, who is driving a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing this season.

Letarte has been the crew chief for Earnhardt Jr. since the beginning of the 2011 season. In three years, he and Junior have won at Michigan in 2012 and recorded 24 top fives and 54 top tens.

"We're looking forward to a successful year in 2014 with Steve and Dale leading the No. 88 together," Rick Hendrick said in a statement. "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."

"We don't expect to address the crew chief position until after the season. Everyone with the team is focused on 2014 and committed to having another great year."
Before serving as the crew chief for Junior, Letarte was atop the pit box for Jeff Gordon for the final 10 races of 2005 through 2010. With Gordon, Letarte won 10 races."

With the way that Junior performed at the end of the Sprint Cup Series season in 2013, he became a very legitimate title threat for the 2014 season. And any Letarte departure shouldn't change that.

Sure, it'll be reasonable to wonder about 2015 and beyond, but Hendrick Motorsports has a deep stable and a transition to a new crew chief from in-house should be fairly seamless. And besides, this could be Junior's best chance for a championship since the s-word year of 2004. First things first, Junior Nation.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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