During the latest episode of his podcast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said NASCAR “doesn’t want a bunch of buddies out there racing around.”
His former crew chief expressed the same sentiment on the latest NASCAR on NBC podcast.
“Nothing irritates me more than going to a football or basketball game early and seeing two superstars from separate teams speak to each other pre-event,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said on the episode released Wednesday. “Post-event is different. But pre-event, nothing is more frustrating. I want to turn my ticket in and leave.
“I’m a sports fan. I hate the Yankees. I’m a Red Sox fan. The last thing I want to do is go to Fenway Park and see the starting pitcher from the Red Sox chum it up with the Yankees. Nah, man. Take my ticket back. I’m leaving.”
The podcast also prompted a Wednesday night discussion on NASCAR America (VIDEO ABOVE) with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman weighing in on the topic.
Letarte, who was the crew chief for Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet from 2011-14, suggested NASCAR needs to consider reconfiguring its driver introductions.
“When I see prerace, these drivers hanging out, there is a responsibility to be civil,” Letarte said. “We jam them in this pen. I wish all that changed. I wish they wouldn’t even give them the opportunity to hang out with one another.
“As a sport, we do a disservice to our drivers when we put them in this holding pen behind driver introductions. I think it should be there’s a reason there are locker rooms on two sides of the stadium. They personally don’t want your paths to cross before battle.
“I wish there was a creative way to do that for race car drivers. Because I don’t like to see them hanging out and being buddies. I want them to beat the crap out of each other on the racetrack. Our fans are that way. Why shouldn’t the competitors be that way?”
The dynamic of driver relationships has changed since two decades ago with the introduction of motorhomes that created a virtual infield neighborhood that put stars inches apart all the time.
But Letarte believes precedents have shown that rivalries can exist despite friendships.
“Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. had major businesses together,” Letarte said. “They had more respect for each other than anyone I’ve ever seen. Yet when that helmet strap went on, they hated each other. So it’s not too much. It’s been proven it can be done. So do it. I think you can live two lives and to be a professional sports star, you must.
“If you’re Kyle Larson who wants to play golf with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick and hang out because they all like sprint cars and have a lot in common, that’s fine. Until the day Kyle Larson doesn’t want to put the bumper to Ricky Stenhouse because he’s going to have to see him at the dirt track later.”
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