Daytona Beach, Florida (NEWS CENTER) - Maine native Steve Letarte has been a part of Daytona 500 winning teams. Sunday's victory in NASCAR's biggest race was the first time he experienced it leading an entire crew.
After eight unsuccessful tries as a crew chief, Letarte won the hallowed event in its 56th running. He and his driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished runner-up the prior to years.
"You know it's everybody really at the shop. You work all winter long to come down here with the best equipment and they built a great race car and everyone worked really hard. Dale drove a great race, but if you're going to win one, this is the one you're going to want to win," Letarte said.
Letare's previous victories came as a tire specialist for Jeff Gordon in 1997 & 1999 then as car chief for the #24 car in 2005.
The race was halted after 38 laps due to severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings. The delay lasted more than six hours.
For Letarte, it was worth the wait.
"I'm glad. He knew I really, really wanted to win this one and Dale drove a great race. Nothing better I can think of in the world than giving Mr. Hendrick another 500 win in the last year," he said.
Sunday was conceivably the last chance for the 34-year old to win a race as the head of a race crew. After nine seasons a crew chief (2005-10 for Jeff Gordon and 2010-present for Dale Earnhardt Jr.), he announced before the season that he'd be resigning his duties to work as a broadcaster for NBC starting in 2015.
Letarte broke into NASCAR as a floor sweeper at Hendrick Motorsports as a 15-year old. He started working full-time for the company the following year.
The checkered flag also ended Earnhardt Jr.'s ten-year drought at The Great American Race, which is now the biggest gap between victories for a multiple winner. The previous record was nine years (1968-77) held by four-time champ Cale Yarborough.
Earnhard Jr. is the 11th driver to win multiple Daytona 500s.