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Chemistry Lesson: Gordon and Letarte Already Clicking

CONCORD, N.C. (March 30, 2006) – Generally speaking, transitions are tough. At the very least, it takes time for the new ingredients to jell. And then there’s Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team—throw huge change at that group and what do they do? Thrive.
Gordon and the DuPont team get a new crew chief in 2000, what do they do? Win a fourth championship in 2001. Gordon gets a new crew chief late in the 2005 season and, well, if it’s too early to say whether or not he’ll win a fifth title this year, it’s not too early to say this: 25-year-old Steve Letarte has already hit his stride.

In about half the races in which he’s been crew chief—15 since taking over before the 27th race of 2005—Letarte has helped engineer Gordon’s 73rd win and negotiated four other top-fives and two more top-10s for the No. 24 Chevrolets. What gives?

“I think what Steve has brought to the table is he’s really got the guys fired up,” says Gordon. “They’re working together so well, they’re building race cars, they’re all pumped up and ready to go to each race with a chance to win.

“I want them to know that as the driver, I feel that same way, that I’m in there giving them everything that they’re giving me, and that means that there’ going to be times when I’m going to be more aggressive.”

For his part, Letarte appears content to fly below the radar, to not be the focus of any of NASCAR’s intense public scrutiny. Still, he clearly understands the importance of his role as one of the team leaders.

“One thing that I think Jeff and I have done well together is as we try to be really intense in the race but also understand how long the races are and what we need to do,” Letarte said. “And I feel that we’ve only been crew chief and driver now for 15-or-so races, but I feel we’ve done a good job of putting ourselves in position to end a lot of these long races.”

That’s putting it mildly.  Since Daytona, Gordon has been a factor in every race, with a legitimate shot to have won each. He hasn’t gone to Victory Lane yet this year—but he will.

And who knows, just maybe this will be the second time in his career that he wins a title in his second year with a new crew chief.

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