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Steve Letarte leaving for TV role

1/10/2014 - NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Wanted: Crew chief for one of the most scrutinized jobs in racing. Take a while to think about it.

Steve Letarte, who has served as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. since 2011, was announced on Thursday as a member of NBC Sports' broadcast team for the 2015 Sprint Cup season.

He will join lead announcer Rick Allen and analyst Jeff Burton, who were previously announced by the network.

"I've always been impressed with Steve Letarte's interviews, and feel smarter after hearing him break down the crucial elements of each race," said Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports and NBCSN. "It wasn't long into our first meeting about this potential role on our broadcast team when I realized that Steve is going to be 'Must See TV.' "

Letarte, 34, has won 11 Sprint Cup races in 294 starts, all at Hendrick Motorsports, all but one of them with Jeff Gordon from 2005-10. He won six races and finished second in points with Gordon in 2007. They were third in 2009.

Letarte, who had begun working at Hendrick at age 16, said after taking the job as crew chief for the four-time series champion that he had no desire to hold such a job past age 40. He found his next outlet in broadcasting.

"I want to thank Rick Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for the opportunities they have given me over the last 18 years, and I want to reaffirm my commitment to Dale Jr. and the entire 88 team to go win races and challenge for the championship in 2014," Letarte said in a release.

Letarte's success in his current post makes the move impactful to a large swathe of NASCAR's fan base, as he helped return Earnhardt Jr. to a competitive state with a fifth-place finish in points in 2011.

NASCAR's most popular driver had missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup three of the previous four seasons. Earnhardt Jr. ended a 143-race winless streak at Michigan in 2012 and finished fifth in points last season. It was his best finish since finishing fifth in 2004.

HMS owner Rick Hendrick said the team did not "expect" to address the impending vacancy until after this season.

"You never want to see a talented and all-around quality person like Steve move on, but we understand this is an exciting opportunity for him and his family," he said. "He has all the tools to be a terrific broadcaster, and I know our fans will enjoy hearing his perspective.

"[Steve and Dale] 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.