For the first time since 2014, Steve Letarte will be a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief. On Wednesday, Spire Motorsports announced that due to regular crew chief Ryan Sparks being in COVID-19 protocol, Letarte will take his place for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, working the #7 of Corey LaJoie. Two unnamed team members are also unable to travel to the track for the same reason.
Letarte is best known for his work at Hendrick Motorsports, serving as the crew chief for Jeff Gordon from late 2005 to 2010 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 2011 to 2014. He won ten races with Gordon, including a historic runner-up season in 2007, and five with Earnhardt. His final year as Earnhardt’s crew chief saw the two score four victories which included the Daytona 500.
“Due to COVID-19 protocols, Ryan Sparks, Crew Chief for Spire Motorsports #7 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, will be unavailable to participate in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 and will not travel to Homestead-Miami Speedway. Additionally, two other members of the #7 team will be inactive this weekend in adherence with the same directives,” read a statement from Spire. “Veteran NASCAR Cup Series crew chief, NBC Sports analyst and Spire Motorsports consultant Steve Letarte will call the race in Sparks’ absence for the team and driver Corey LaJoie.”
After the 2014 season, Letarte stepped away from the pit box to become a colour commentator for the returning NBC’s NASCAR coverage, and he has worked in the booth alongside Rick Allen and Jeff Burton and as an analyst for the network since. However, he also remained involved in the industry proper as a consultant for Spire, whose co-owner Jeff Dickerson worked with Letarte as the spotter for Gordon. Spire Motorsports also maintain a technical alliance with Hendrick.
Sparks followed LaJoie from Go Fas Racing to Spire between the 2020 and 2021 seasons after previously working as an engineer at Richard Childress Racing. In the first two races of the year, LaJoie finished ninth and thirty-first. Specifics of the COVID-19 protocol were not disclosed, and reasons can range from positive tests to contact tracing. LaJoie will start Sunday’s race in twenty-fifth.
Spire are not the only team impacted by pandemic-related orders entering Homestead. Fellow Chevrolet and Hendrick ally Chip Ganassi Racing‘s owner received a one-race ban from the garage area for violating NASCAR’s COVID protocols during last Sunday’s event.