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NASCAR: Earnhardt fears replacing crew chief

by JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer on January 12, 2014 1:49 AM

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is admittedly scared by the daunting task of replacing crew chief Steve Letarte.

He’ll leave it up to team owner Rick Hendrick and management at Hendrick Motorsports, and they’ve got the entire season to find a new crew chief. Letarte was formally introduced Friday as the third and final member of NBC Sports Group’s broadcast booth for its NASCAR coverage beginning in 2015.

Earnhardt and Letarte have been paired since 2011. Although the duo has just one win together, they’ve made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship the past three seasons.

More important, Letarte rebuilt the confidence in NASCAR’s most popular driver and instilled a structure around Earnhardt that the driver admits raised his professionalism in the race car.

“The one thing that I fear is just trying to get a guy in there that’s equally as talented,” Earnhardt said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “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 that my fear is can we replace Steve?”

Letarte and Earnhardt first discussed the NBC opportunity in October, when Earnhardt heard rumors.

Ultimately, after 19 years in the garage, it was the ability to spend more time with his two children that made the NBC job more attractive than continuing as a crew chief.

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