NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte debuted his podcast “Letarte on Location” Tuesday.
The former Daytona 500 winning crew chief will bring you closer to all kinds of personalities that Letarte has met throughout the years traveling the NASCAR circuit.
HIs first guest is Doug Duchardt, chief operating officer for Chip Ganassi Racing. They talk about a wide range of topics at the Streamline Hotel, the birthplace of NASCAR, in Daytona Beach, Florida. Duchardt had overseen Chevrolet’s racing programs and Hendrick Motorsports before joining Chip Ganassi Racing in January 2018.
You can listen to Letarte’s podcast by clicking on the player below or via the respective links for podcasting apps:
Chastain, who turned 26 in December, made his first public appearance in a month on Friday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There, he announced plans to compete part time for Niece Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, beginning with the season opener at Daytona.
“Early on there was a couple of dark days following everything that went down. I’m not going to shy away from it,” Chastain told reporters before later clarifying himself. “It wasn’t dark, that’s probably going to come across wrong when you write it down now that I think about that. I don’t want people to get the wrong impression, but it was a big deal.
“(The Carpoffs) did a lot for me. They changed my life. I’ll forever be thankful for them and Chip (Ganassi) and Felix (Sabates) … and everybody involved with CGR and all the people in the office, they still stand behind me. I’m still tied to them. I’m still working for them.”
Chastain said he hasn’t been in contact with the Carpoffs since the FBI raids.
“Chip and (Chief Operating Officer) Doug Duchardt, they tried everything they could to keep that deal going,” Chastain said. “Talked to Chip back and forth throughout the process … it was going to affect so many people and so many mechanics and crew guys on that, including me.
“He knew that, and it affected him. He was the ultimate loser here in Charlotte for it. Nobody wanted it to happen, man. We think we know what we could accomplish or what we were going to shoot for and the cards that were laying out on the table of what we could do in 2019, but it’s just not how it was intended to happen.”
While he won’t be driving the No. 42 for CGR in 2019, he’s still under contract with the team and said Ganassi himself calls “every now and then to make sure I’m doing OK.”
So what did Chastain do during a holiday season where his career was upended through no fault of his own?
He went home.
Chastain spent Christmas and New Years clearing his head on his family’s watermelon farm in Alva, Florida.
“Spent a lot of time at the farm on a tractor,” Chastain said. “Leaving my phone in the truck. Get on the tractor and a couple of days of that will make you appreciate the life I do get to live, and I knew I wasn’t done racing. I was just going to change my schedule for this year. Family was really good. It kind of made us all even closer.”
The time was also spent reflecting on everything that has transpired in the last half-year.
“We talked through all that and realized ‘Man, what we would have given six months ago to have all this happen,'” Chastain said. “‘How can we be upset?'”
While Chastain had been silent, including on social media, since the day before the raids, other NASCAR drivers have been in touch with him. That includes Elliott Sadler, who tweeted about Chastain on Jan. 7 after talking with him.
Had a long talk with @RossChastain .. just heart broken for him.. he has a ton of talent and big smile to go with it… he will have an amazing career in this sport .. he is strong enough to fight through !!!
“Elliott has probably been the biggest one through all this,” Chastain said. “I don’t get along with many drivers. Me and him connect on a lot of things. … He was just like, ‘Yeah, it’s terrible, but you’re going to get through it. You have a future,’ and that’s what he kept saying.
“He said he’s been here long enough to see it. It’s going to work out. You’ve just got to believe. I was already back on track, digging on this year when I talked to Elliott, and he sent that tweet out. His biggest thing was ‘Just believe. Know it’s going to work out. I’ve seen this before. Nobody could see this coming. You didn’t do anything wrong.’ It’s head down and dig.
“He’s been really instrumental in staying on me to make sure I’m doing that.”
When it comes to who Chastain will dig deep for in races this year, Chastain said there are restrictions Ganassi has on whom he can compete for that are still being worked out.
His deal with Niece Motorsports, who he made three starts for last year, was not a result of the Ganassi closure and had been in the works for months. He’ll share the No. 45 Chevrolet with Reid Wilson.
In addition to his truck ride, Chastain plans to compete full time in Cup with Premium Motorsports in the No. 15 Chevrolet while declaring for points in the Xfinity Series.
That way he can compete in any Xfinity and Truck races in the playoffs, when all Cup drivers are banned from competition in those series.
Chastain did not reveal who he has “handshakes galore” with in the Xfinity Series, but he plans to compete in all three points races at Daytona in February. He does anticipate racing at some point this season with JD Motorsports, the Xfinity team he raced full time for from 2015-2017 and all but three races in 2018.
“However many races we end up at, we’ll be great,” Chastain said. “I’m getting to run, getting paid to drive in NASCAR and that was my dream growing up.”
Despite having multiple opportunities to race this season, the question was raised whether last year’s feel-good story has been set back in a way that could harm his hopes of marketing himself for a top-tier ride after 2019.
“People are going to think what they want to think if it set me back or not,” Chastain said. “We’re writing our own story for how this is going to work out.”
“We’re planning on having a relationship with Jamie when he’s not working at Fox and that’s consistent with some of the things that Chip (Ganassi) has done, for instance with Dario Franchitti on our IndyCar side,” Duchardt said. “Jamie’s been an important part of the CGR family for a long time. Some of the great moments in Chip Ganasssi Racing history belong to Jamie.”
McMurray claimed five of his seven Cup wins for Ganassi, including the 2010 Daytona 500 and 2010 Brickyard 400. He also won the 24 Hours at Daytona for Ganassi’s sports car team.
“Jamie brings a lot of experience for sure from the NASCAR racing side,” Duchardt said. “But also from the sports car racing that he’s done, he’s left a foot print over with guys in the Indy shop, too, from doing the sports car races. It was interesting, when I would go to the IndyCar races and when I was at the 24 Hours of Daytona last year for my first race with Chip, is how they would speak glowingly of having Jamie around and how everyone enjoyed it when he was around. I think that’s the best thing I could say about Jamie. … When’s he’s around our team and he’s around our sponsors, he makes people feel good. He’s engaging and whatever track you’re at he makes it enjoyable.
“He can bring a lot to the team and to the sponsors to come and be at the track with us. I think that’s the best way to describe kind of how we’re looking at Jamie’s role and what he’s going to do with the team.”
Earlier this year Ganassi said he had offered McMurray the opportunity to compete in the Daytona 500 in a third Ganassi car before transitioning into a leadership role with the team. NASCAR announced last week McMurray was among the drivers eligible for the Advance Auto Parts Clash, the exhibition race held the week before the 500.
The team has not yet announced if McMurray will compete in the 500 or Clash.
CONCORD, N.C. – When he left his general manager position at Hendrick Motorsports a year ago, Doug Duchardt was interested in staying in the front office.
But not necessarily in NASCAR.
The longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan “looked pretty hard at Major League Baseball” for a few months before starting his new job as the chief operating officer at Chip Ganassi Racing in January.
“I had discussions with a few clubs and got close with a couple, but it just didn’t come through,” Duchardt told NBC Sports.com in a recent interview at Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR headquarters north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
It would have been quite a reset after a three-decade career of working in the automobile industry (primarily in racing, starting at General Motors before moving to Hendrick in 2005).
“In the front office but a much lower level,” Duchardt said. “I understood I wasn’t going to come in as the general manager of a baseball team. I’m not smart enough for that. It was something new to challenge myself. Go find something you like and learn about it.
“I don’t regret pursuing that at all. I met some really interesting people and had a great time learning more about a sport I love. I think anytime you get to interact with leaders of other sports, you learn from them, even though you may not think it’s applicable to a race car or race team. Inevitably, leadership and how you approach things and your culture, company, all those things apply. Whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, racing. Any company you have, you have to build a culture, and have people buy into that and move forward.”
During the job search, several lessons came from one Major League Baseball GM whose team has produced many executives who became GMs at other teams.
“I don’t know if I want to name the name, but it’s someone who has been in baseball a long time,” Duchardt said. “And what became evident in my discussions with this person is their openness to someone who didn’t grow up in the game and was more interested in building a culture with the right people other than necessarily someone who grew up in the background. It was just a different philosophy.”
And an approach that might have landed him a baseball gig.
“That’s what I was hoping,” Duchardt said. “But I completely get it. If you’re at a club and grooming people to come up through their system, and you’ve got a plan and how that’s going to proceed, and here comes a guy who is working on race cars, how is this going to work?
“I was hoping to bring a unique perspective. As technology increases in baseball, coming from a sport that is extremely dependent on technology, and I had managed technology for many years, specifically at Hendrick, that I could come and help that.
And did he talk job opportunities with his favorite team?
“Briefly,” Duchardt said of the Cardinals. “I’ve got a ton of respect for that club and how it’s managed. They have plans and people in place.
“I really didn’t look at it like that. I was just wanting to find something that was going to get me out of my comfort zone.”
Here are highlights of the interview with Duchardt, who reflected on his time at Hendrick (which announced his departure on June 6, 2017), managing a team across multiple racing series and on the challenges of the new Camaro:
Q: What was the impetus for your first break from racing in more than 30 years?
A: “When I decided to leave Hendrick, it was for professional and personal reasons. I was just ready to look to do something different. So, I took the time to do that. I just unplugged. I went and played fantasy baseball at Cooperstown. I helped my daughter get acclimated in her new job in New York. I was looking at opportunities outside of NASCAR. That’s really where I thought I was going to land.
“Chip called about coming here. Chip and I had known each other a long time from when I was the NASCAR program manager at Chevrolet, and he was coming into NASCAR. Of course at Hendrick, we were supplying engines, and I got to know him through that relationship. I felt we always had a good rapport. He talked to me about coming here, and it really appealed to me because he competes in three racing programs. It allowed me to get back into racing that I really enjoyed when I was at General Motors and had the director of racing jobs. The fact it was a different role than just competition, so managing across the company. I felt like it was going to be something new and a challenge.”
Q: How is the new job a different challenge from the competition-focused general manager role at Hendrick?
A: “The title is COO, so it’s competition and all business operations. So basically run the company. That’s the revenue side, supporting sponsors, public relations and all the competition. There are two facilities, one in Concord (NASCAR) and the Indianapolis facility with the two IndyCar teams and the two sports car teams.
Q: Did you have an MBA to prepare for the business side?
A: “I went to Sloan School of Business at MIT and did some executive education courses. But I never got a formal degree. I got a certificate. Specifically in different areas I felt like I needed to learn if I wanted to grow from competition to a bigger role. So that’s been good. It’s been a challenge. It’s new. It’s different. I’m not day to day worried about the new Optical Scanning Station. Someone else is worrying about that.”
Q: You left Hendrick near the midpoint of what was a tough season for that team. Were those results a factor in your departure?
A: “When I was looking at (the move), what’s the right timing for that? For me to wait through the whole year would not be fair to the company because the time for the general manager or management role at a race team to be locked in is when the season ends. You have to plan for next year. To me, the minimal disruption to them was for me to leave, and I just felt that was the right time. It gave them time to reorganize, put people in place and be ready to assess and adjust whatever they had to do in the offseason next year.
“I have nothing bad to say about (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) or (team president) Marshall Carlson. They were nothing but supportive of me when I made my decision. Rick didn’t want me to go. I’m still great friends with him. I’m really proud of the work I did there with them. It’s a hugely talented group. I was blessed to be there for the 12 years I was.”
Q: Does the pride stem from being there for seven championships with Jimmie Johnson?
A: “Here’s the thing about that. When you’re in a senior management role, you’re trying to build an environment for people to succeed. And so, when you have really talented people throughout the organization, including a driver and crew chief combination that locked in, it’s hard to say what you did or didn’t do to help that. I’m smart enough to know and humble enough to know that hopefully I helped. I tried to help. Or I was just right place, right time. Whatever it is, I’m blessed and thankful I was there when it happened. It’s made for great memories.”
Q: Are you pleased by Ganassi’s start to 2018?
A: “When I started here, the NASCAR program obviously was going in the right direction and has been successful in the past two years and continues to perform well. We’ve been close to some wins. The group here has done a really good job of building a tight-knit two-car team that is focused and working well together. You just try to focus on the fundamentals and keep learning and getting better, and the rest will take care of itself. From my standpoint, I haven’t said or done much other than reinforce the importance of communication and working together.
“From the IndyCar and sports car side, the first part has been learning those series again. Before the season, I was trying to get to Indianapolis at least once every other week. Get caught up with (IndyCar president of competition) Jay Frye. So it’s been fun catching up with friends that you’ve had from before, and they’re in new roles. And then learning new racing series. It’s been 15 years since I was exposed to IndyCar and sports car, so it as fun getting back in that.
“I always said if I went back to being director of a (manufacturer) racing program, I could do my job so much differently. Because once you’ve understood what is happening day to day (at a team) — what is going on to get to the track and operate, execute and succeed – it really helps.”
Q: What decision-making are you involved in with IndyCar and sports car?
A: “It’s more of long-term planning and structurally looking at things. That’s all this sport is. It’s all continuous improvement. Always how to get a little bit better. Whether week to week or long term. Chip’s organization started with IndyCar. It’s got a lot of history, a lot of longtime employees. They’ve been around the sport a long time. They have a lot of experience to lean on and know the paddock well there. You lean on them and then start talking about what their needs are and what they need next, and then you start working on that.”
Q: On the NASCAR side, are there advantages to having two cars vs. four?
A: “There are advantages and disadvantages. The four-car team lent itself to having more resources. It’s more difficult to manage and align because there are four opinions vs. two. There’s always pros and cons to everything.”
Q: Why have the Chevy teams seem to have had some growing pains with the debut of the Camaro this season?
A: “There are two variables: The new car and the new inspection system. That’s the two variables that Chevy are dealing with, and Ford and Toyota teams just dealt with the new inspection system. And so we’re working hard to continue to evolve and develop the car. Kyle’s been competitive at intermediate tracks. Certainly we’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re working hard to get there, so NASCAR has a process to put those cars through and approve, and we went through it. I feel like the fundamentals are there to make that car successful, and we’ve just got to keep working on it to get there. We’re just a third of the way through the season, so things can change a lot by the time we get to the playoffs.
Q: The Camaro was designed and developed ahead of the Optical Scanning Station this year. Did that have an impact?
A: “We knew that was coming, and then what we didn’t know was the tolerances (NASCAR officials) were going to hold us to. I wasn’t (at Hendrick) in the middle of it anymore in the tail end of getting that car approved. My recollection was they were bringing (the OSS) to playoff races, and you could voluntarily go through to see how it worked, and I don’t know how many people took that option to understand that. I just wasn’t there for that.
“But NASCAR didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have an OSS and this is the tolerance.’ That’s fine. It’s not like the Chevrolet group knew what that was going to be, and Toyota and Ford didn’t, either. It’s just change. I try to put it on the engine side. I’ve seen it before like back in 1996, we had the 18-degree Chevrolet small block engine and the new SB2 small block. What happened was you’d developed the old 18-degree engine so long, that when you build your first SB2, it was just as good as the 18-degree. The 1998 Daytona 500 was the first SB2 win with Dale Earnhardt, but in qualifying, Gibbs had an 18-degree engine because it ran better. They qualified with the 18 degree and raced with the SB2. When you put that much time and development into something, sometimes it’s hard to leapfrog it. Especially in the tight tolerances like NASCAR has. I think that’s just what we’re in the middle of (with the Camaro).”
Duchardt spent 12 years as an executive at Hendrick Motorsports before leaving there in June 2017.
When Ganassi announced Duchardt’s hiring, it also stated that it had formed a Corporate Office of Ganassi that included Duchardt, Lauletta, CFO Chuck Gottschalk and Vice President of Human Resources Rob Wilder to oversee all of CGR’s racing and commercial activities globally.
Ganassi competes in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity, Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship.
Lauletta joined Chip Ganassi Racing in July 2007 as the team’s president.