By admin | February 28, 2011
By Richard Allen
During the off season, Hendrick Motorsports made headlines when they announced a significant driver/crew chief shakeup within their organization. Essentially every driver and crew pairing aside from that of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus was shuffled to make ready for 2011.
Jeff Gordon made his first trip to victory lane in 66 races on Sunday to show that the swap made an immediate difference for him. It was the 83rd win in the Sprint Cup career of the four time champion. This was the first win for the #24 team under the direction of new crew chief Alan Gustafson, who became Gordon’s pit boss after that off season crew exchange.
Since 2009 Gustafson has served as crew chief for Mark Martin while Gordon’s team had been under the direction of Steve Letarte. After the switch, Letarte took over the duty of leading Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s team, Gustafson took over for Gordon and Lance McGrew became Martin’s team leader.
While working with Letarte, Gordon experienced success early in the relationship. From the final few races of 2005 through the end of 2007 the pairing won nine races and finished 2nd in the Sprint Cup standings in 2007. However, from that point until the end of last season there was only one win to boast of for this driver who had become so accustomed to winning races and championships throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
As Gordon approached 40 years of age(he will turn 40 this August) it seemed necessary to the bosses at HMS that a change was due for the driver once known as ‘Boy Wonder’.
Gustafson has worked with Kyle Busch and most recently with Martin on the #5 Chevrolet for HMS. He has shown the ability to guide a winning team with both of those drivers. It took him only two races to show that he can win with Gordon behind the wheel as well.
After only two races in 2011 Gordon ranks 5th in the series standings.
Based on the previous records of both Jeff Gordon and Alan Gustafson as well as on their early success so far, it would seem a safe bet to say there will be other trips to victory lane for the #24 car this season. And there is almost certainly a deep internal desire to add another championship trophy to the HMS showcase with Gordon’s name on it, so as not to be outdone by a certain teammate.
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