It was a gutsy move by Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick motorsports. But when he saw junior getting into the car with Steve Letarte and his children en route to the mall, it just felt like the right thing to do. “You've got him. This is it,'" Hendrick chuckled. "Dale wants to be comfortable. He wants to respect the guy and he wants the guy to respect him. Period."And it was that hunch, looking at how the 2011 went, that arguably saved Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career. And one that in hindsight may prove to turn Dale Earnhardt into a NASCAR winner come the 2012 NASCAR racing schedule.
The two quickly earned each other’s mutual respect. "Sometimes you can tell him you have his best interests at heart, you can tell him this is the best thing for him," Hendrick continued. "But until he believes and he sees it, he feels it doesn't do him any good. He has to believe." And it was the mutual faith of the two that gave Junior one of his best seasons in a very long time running the NASCAR Racing Schedule. Hopefully, he may be a bigger NASCAR winner in 2012.
What’s Steve Letarte’s secret to handling Junior? "Patience," he said. "He's a remarkable race car driver. I don't think he became a better race car driver in terms of talent or car feel. He did a remarkable job all season of being patient when we didn't have a car good enough to win.He was patient when we didn't have the best car in practice. He was extremely patient with me working through how to make it better, and his patience made us a better race team and me a better crew chief."
Hendrick believes that both Letarte and Earnhardt have something to prove to become NASCAR winners. There is a sense that neither of them wants to be seen as weak links within the Hendrick organization especially with Jeff Gordon’s revival since picking up a crew chief of his own. But for the collective scope of Hendrick Motorsports, it seems that chemistry is the key. Now with chemistry at its best heading into the 2012 NASCAR Racing Schedule, Hendrick is expecting all his drivers to find the chase.