Struggling No. 24 team hoping test session at Lowe's produces some answers
Jeff Gordon isn't out of this thing yet. If the four-time Cup champ and crew chief Steve Letarte can find some answers during a two-day test session at Lowe's, watch out for the No. 24.
Updated: September 23, 2008, 5:51 PM ETBy David Newton | ESPN.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Crew chief Steve Letarte had his head buried in a laptop computer loaded with numbers and charts during Tuesday's Sprint Cup test at Lowe's Motor Speedway.He was looking for something -- anything -- that could give driver Jeff Gordon a better feel for the car and help him avoid his first winless season since 1993, his rookie year.
Letarte knows he has received much of the blame for what has been an average season for the four-time Cup champion. He also knows he's the same person who helped Gordon to one of his best seasons just a year ago.So does team owner Rick Hendrick. "He didn't go brain-dead," Hendrick said.Letarte laughed and replied, "We'll find out."The two-day session at Lowe's could play a role because five of the last eight races in the championship Chase are on 1.5-mile tracks. If Letarte and his driver can find that little something that has been missing, they might end the losing streak and become a title contender.Gordon is eighth in points, 118 behind leader Carl Edwards heading into Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway."I predict Jeff will win a race before this is over," Hendrick said. "We're not out of it yet."And if they are, he and Gordon made it clear it's not Letarte's fault."Steve is an amazing crew chief when you look at that umbrella that falls underneath him," Gordon said. "Whenever we're not performing, my fans seem to stay loyal to me, and I appreciate that."But I'm as much a part of this team and its performance as anybody else out there. If there's going to be criticisms, you know, I want it to come across the board."Gordon believes Letarte has done an "amazing" job. He contends that the two have worked extremely well all season and that the communication is as good now as it was a year ago when they had six wins, 21 top-5s, 30 top-10s and seven poles.
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJeff Gordon says crew chief Steve Letarte, right, has done an "amazing" job.
"Unfortunately, we just haven't seen the results like we did last year," said Gordon, who has nine top-5s and 13 top-10s. "It's really easy to put aside or forget what we did last year, which to me was one of the best seasons I ever had in the Cup series. Looking at this year, just things haven't gone our way for whatever reason.
"But I believe [Steve's] the guy for the job, and he's a confident guy that does the job well. I hate that he gets the criticism."
Most cases in the sport, if the guy wins, it's his talent. And if he doesn't, it's the crew chief's fault. The crew chief kind of walks a plank by himself.
-- Team owner Rick Hendrick
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