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Letarte locked into 'Top 12' mindset

 

BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 17, 2009) - During a time of year when many people are thinking about universities securing a possible Final Four appearance, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet crew chief Steve Letarte is in the early stages of making a “Final 12” run for his institution of higher learning.

“I went to the university of Hendrick Motorsports,” Letarte said. “I’m more interested in making sure this team makes the final 12 for those last 10 races and the ‘Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.’”

Letarte began his career at Hendrick as a parts assistant in 1995. He was 16 years old. Since then, he has been there for each of Jeff Gordon’s four NASCAR Cup Series championships, working as a mechanic, tire specialist and car chief. In September of 2005, Letarte was promoted to crew chief and, six races later, was celebrating his first victory calling the shots for Team DuPont.

After a two-win campaign and a sixth-place finish in the championship standings in 2006, Letarte helped lead the team to second-place finish in 2007 on the strength of six wins and 30 top-10 finishes in 36 events. That year also marked the introduction of the “Car of Tomorrow” in selected events.

In 2008, the Chevrolet Impala was raced in each event. Although the team posted 13 top-five finishes, 19 top-10s and finished seventh in the final standings, it was the first year that Letarte did not reach Victory Lane as a member of the No. 24 team.

“We were successful in 2007, but the learning curve is steep with the new car,” Letarte said. “We got behind last year, and we didn’t have the year any of us wanted in 2008. But this entire No. 24 team worked hard over the offseason and their effort is showing in our performance.”

That effort has Gordon atop the standings after four races in 2009. He has a 5.75 average finish and has led each event, but those races were all on tracks 1.5-miles or longer in length. This Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway is the first short-track event of the season.

“They made some changes to the track in 2007 and, while I like the changes because there are now multiple grooves, we just haven’t quite figured it out yet,” said Gordon, who has five wins, five pole positions, 13 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s in 32 starts at the 0.533-mile track. “But we are learning more and more every lap we complete here.”

“Our education continues with this car,” Letarte added. “While Bristol is completely different from any of the tracks we raced on so far this year, I believe some of what we learned in the first four races will translate over to this weekend.

“When I first started with this team, Jeff won four spring events here (from 1995 to 1998). I want to get back to those types of afternoons.”

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