By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Steve Letarte has one of the toughest jobs in all of racing, he is the crew chief for one of the most successful racers in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. Around every corner overwhelming expectations are met with endless scrutinizing. If he wins it’s because he has Jeff Gordon driving the car, and if he loses he simply doesn’t know what he is doing on the pit box, yet Letarte always keeps his cool. The reason is simple, he knows he is doing everything in his power to get his four-time champion driver back to victory lane, and that’s all you can ask.
Through ten races Jeff Gordon has had a car capable of leading 599 laps, easily leading Jeff Burton (247 laps led) for the Series lead. Gordon has also been in position to win in half of the races thus far in 2010, yet he hasn’t been able to capitalize on any of them. The only one of those five races you can even begin to pin on Letarte was Las Vegas, however I don’t believe he was at fault there either.
In Vegas Gordon led 219 of the 267 laps on the day, but under a late caution Letarte opted to take two tires while virtually the rest of the field went with four brand new Goodyears. As a result Jimmie Johnson was able to get around Gordon with just a few laps to go, and he cruised to victory lane. Gordon defended his crew chief following the call, and actually I did as well. Why would I defend the race losing call? Just hear me out for a second.
If Gordon had taken four-tires, then the rest of the field would have taken two tires, and he would have been mired deep in traffic, a place Gordon hasn’t been able to control the COT the past few seasons. It was the right call, yet he didn’t go on to win the race.
At Martinsville, Phoenix, Texas, and this week at Richmond the reason for the loss has to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. Gordon had the races won, before he either got caught up in an incident on the track, or he was flat out beat on a late race restart (like this week at Richmond).
Over the past 40 races, Letarte has been the one everybody is quick to blame for Jeff Gordon’s win-less streak, and I for one am saying that it is utterly ridiculous. Steve Letarte is a fantastic crew chief, and he is proving that to everyone in 2010. In my opinion if Gordon can refine his abilities on restarts the team would be virtually unbeatable. Maybe if Gordon can find victory lane his fan base will get behind their crew chief, who should be getting praise for the amazing job he’s done in 2010.
Well this week they enter a place where Gordon may indeed break through in Darlington. Gordon leads all active drivers with seven career victories at the track that is “Too Tough To Tame”, and if he doesn’t win I’m sure “it’ll all be Steve Letarte’s fault”.