Sprint Cup crew chief Steve Letarte to join NBC Sports at season’s end (UPDATED)

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Hendrick Motorsports’ Steve Letarte, currently the crew chief for the No. 88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr., will join the NBC Sports Group’s coverage of NASCAR beginning in the 2015 season.

Letarte will team up with lap-by-lap announcer Rick Allen and fellow analyst Jeff Burton as part of Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series broadcasts on NBC and NBCSN that will also include pre and-post-race shows, qualifying and studio programming.

“I’ve always been impressed with Steve Letarte’s interviews, and feel smarter after hearing him break down the crucial elements of each race,” NBC Sports and NBCSN executive producer Sam Flood said in a statement.

“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.'”

After joining Hendrick Motorsports at the age of 16, Letarte quickly rose up the ladder and took over as car chief for the No. 24 Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon in 2002. He then became Gordon’s crew chief in 2005.

Letarte would spend five years in that particular role before moving over to guide Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 in 2011. Since that point, Letarte has helped Earnhardt break into the Chase in each of the last three seasons.

“As soon as I met with Sam Flood and his team at NBC Sports, it became obvious to me how excited they were to be covering NASCAR in 2015 and beyond,” Letarte said. “Their excitement, along with my love for racing, solidified my decision to move away from the pit box and into the broadcast booth.

“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.”

Shortly after NBC’s announcement, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick issued his own reaction to the news.

“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 in a team release. “He has all the tools to be a terrific broadcaster, and I know our fans will enjoy hearing his perspective.”

But while Letarte’s new career is on the horizon, Hendrick expects him and Earnhardt to be a title threat in what will be their final year together on the track.

“We’re looking forward to a successful year in 2014 with Steve and Dale leading the No. 88 together,” he 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.

“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.”

MRTI: pre-season testing Day 3 notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Day 3 of pre-season testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway saw the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda continue testing for the second day in a row, with each series completing three sessions on what was their final day of running.

Quick reports on both series are below.

Pro Mazda: Cunha Surges to the Front

While Saturday saw Pro Mazda newcomers like Oliver Askew, Parker Thompson, and Rinus VeeKey lead the way, Sunday saw a pair of second-year Pro Mazda drivers take their turns at the top of the speed charts. In the combined results, Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunha turned the fastest lap of the final session, also good enough to be the outright fastest lap of the weekend, taking advantage of a fresh set of Cooper Tires to do so.

“I’m really happy, Juncos Racing is an amazing team,” Cunha said of the team’s performance. “On track, we are always improving, never going backwards and that’s very good. We have tested a lot but we still need to learn a lot about the car, though we are almost to a perfect setup. The team has given me everything I need to be comfortable inside the car, to know what the car needs, and to know what I need to be a better driver. We have time to improve and we are moving forward quickly.”

Fellow sophomore driver Sting Ray Robb, now with Team Pelfrey, was right behind Cunha in second.

Combined results across both Saturday and Sunday can be found here.

USF2000: Kirkwood, Cape Motorsports Stay On Top of Deep USF2000 Field

New Cape Motorsports driver Kyle Kirkwood, who topped Session 2 on Saturday, stayed on top of the combined speed charts across the weekend on the strength of his best lap from Session 3 of the weekend on Saturday.

Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh was right behind Kirkwood, on the strength of his quick lap from Session 1.

However, Sunday’s running saw a different driver assert his authority, with Kaylen Frederick, Lindh’s teammate at Pabst, turning the fastest lap during the final session.

Frederick ended up fourth in the combined results, which can be viewed here.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will take to the Homestead-Miami road course on Monday for the final day of testing for the Mazda Road to Indy.

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