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« NASCAR and every other sport could learn from Supercross | Main | Busch brothers leading the way to their hometown »

It didn’t take long for crew swap to benefit Gordon

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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7 Responses to “It didn’t take long for crew swap to benefit Gordon”

  1. Charles Says:
    March 1st, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Mabe a little off topic Richard!

    Sometimes things just dont work out!! I am talking about Dale Jr.

    I really think if he doesnt do better this year, and I mean
    not win, but at least be competitive with the other Hendrick cars, he should be looking at other alternatives!

    I believe he is a better driver than he is performing!The last year he drove for the DEI team I think he won one race and at least was competitive!

    Something is not clicking, you stated in another column is Jr worth being the most highy paid driver, well he might not, but “Hendrick will take it” its Dale Jrs money thats probably benefiting “most of the other” Hendrick teams, with the way they seem to blend it in!

    I thought Childress would have been a better match for Jr, and still do! Remember Hendrick at first said no room at the inn for Jr, and with Hendricks a shrewd businessman and probably seen all the money coming his way, there is no way he could loose!!

    With Jr in another team like RCR, I think he could do what Jamie McMurray did!!!

  2. Kevin Says:
    March 1st, 2011 at 9:25 am

    @Charles,
    Dale Jr’s problems have nothing to do with his crew, his equipment, his teammates or his owner. Dale has two problems. 1st, he has gotten inside his own head and messed things up. He can say all he wants about having done it before and knowing he can still do it, no matter what he states publicly, he has lost confidence in his abilities. 2nd, to date, he has refused to learn to drive the new car. Ever since the COT debut, he has tried to get the new car set up to drive like the old car did. This simply is not possible. He needs to change his driving to suit the car. These cars can not be set up to drive perfect, only to perform better than the other cars on the track.
    I am a big Dale Jr fan, and root for him to do better. I hope that Steve Letarte is the right crew chief to help Jr get his confindence back, and the only way to do that is to get Jr consistently running well and competing for wins. To do that, Letarte has to help Jr learn to drive the new car. So far Jr has done everything that Letarte has asked, according to Steve, even gone above and beyond. Here’s hoping that what Steve continues to preach continues to bring results. As long as what Steve is asking Jr to do is showing results, Jr will continue to do it.
    As I said, crew, equipment, teammates or owner doesn’t matter unless Jr learns to drive the new car and regain confidence in his abilities. If he does, there is no reason he won’t win a Championship for Hendrick. If he doesn’t, I’m sure Rick will continue to try to help Jr struggle with his demons.

  3. Kevin Says:
    March 1st, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Richard,
    Since the swap was announced, I was pretty sure that Jeff Gordon would see the biggest benefit from this change. I’m thinking the championship will remain with Hendrick, however, Mr. Hendrick may just have 2x’5-times’ in the shop.

  4. Ralph Says:
    March 1st, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Oh my God, this is a classic. A Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Jr fan aspiring for his hero to be like Jamie McMurray.

  5. Charles Says:
    March 1st, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Ralph

    It would be “a classic” to see him “run” like Jamie did last year, Daytona and Indy, Charlotte, Dale Sr would even like these stats!

    @Kevin somehow the first year Martin Martin could do it all with Hendrick, look what happen last year!
    Bet you if Jr takes money and sponsor to Childress he will do better!!!!!!
    I agree he seems to have lost confidence, thats where Childress who was hands on with Dale Sr would really benefit Dale Jr!

  6. Marybeth Says:
    March 1st, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    @Charles, I am with you. I hope that next year Jr. is with Gibbs or back in the # 8 car. If Rick wanted Jr. to have the best he would have Gustafson as his cc. This swap was about making JG run better. Jr. got the leftovers. Jr. brings in more money than any other driver. You would think that that money would buy him the best cc. With JG sponsored by AARP it is my guess that the money Jr. is bringing in is being used to help fund the 24. That has to bite.

  7. Justin Says:
    March 2nd, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I think many valid points have been made so far, clearly Jr can drive, he just struggles with the new car. He admitted that last week. He said flat out that he doesnt know how to give feed back about what adjustments to make with the new car. So far this season, I feel like Jr is demanding less from the drivers seat. He used to tell McGrew what to do to the car, so far this year (I know, its early) he seems more willing to tell Letarte what he feels, and let Letarte make the adjustments.

    Going a step further, Kyle Busch drove all 3 races over the weekend, and he stated that now the trucks, nationwide cars, and cup cars all drive almost exactly the same. Why doesnt Jr run 4-5 truck races during the season, and a dozen or so nationwide races (and I am not talking about just ‘dega/daytona). He cant “test” with the new car, so why not take his cup team and drive the nationwide races. His relationship with Letarte would grow faster, he could gain some confidence behind the wheel, and get more seat time with the new style car.

    For 3 years I have been saying he should run truck races, since the cup car was based on the truck platform….