After winning Sunday at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked about having a “fighting spirit” in the closing laps that he had not always possessed since his migration to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
Some of the credit for that can certainly go to his crew chief, Steve Letarte, who has helped guide Earnhardt to his first multi-win season in a decade.
With Letarte heading for NBC Sports to work on their NASCAR coverage next season, Earnhardt knows he has one chance to give him a championship. It’s something he desperately wants to do.
“It would be very disappointing and sad if this was his last year and we struggled,” Earnhardt said Sunday. “But we’ve won two races, and I won my first Pocono race, he won his first Daytona 500. It seems a bit storybook, and we’re having a real thrill.
“We’ll continue to be such great friends after working together this year. I still have him as a big part of my life, and I think that will continue to positively affect me in whoever I work with in the future.”
Today on NASCAR AMERICA, veteran crew chief Frank Stoddard talked about how Earnhardt and Letarte’s chemistry has led to the No. 88 team emerging as a title contender. You can check out his thoughts in the video above.
A new episode of NASCAR AMERICA comes at you tomorrow at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra. For more clips, head over to the show’s archive page.
MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.
Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish
Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.
His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.
But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.
With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.
Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.
Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.
“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.
“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”
Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.