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Publication: NASCAR News
Gordon leaves Richmond relieved

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          NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, May 8, 2008
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Gordon leaves Richmond more relieved than upset
No. 24 team finishes ninth after starting in rear of field
By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM

RICHMOND, Va. - Very little, with the possible exception 
of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s consistent excellence, has gone as 
expected this season for Hendrick Motorsports. 

And so it was, at the end of Saturday night's Crown Royal 
400 at Richmond International Raceway; that Hendrick's 
No. 24 Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon and his crew chief, 
Steve Letarte, were expressing some relief after they 
battled to remain in the top-10 for the night, rather 
than contending for the win. 

"I know [at the end] it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't that 
good, either," Letarte said. "You know, we're not a top-10 
team. We come here to win and we haven't given [Gordon] a 
winning racecar since maybe Vegas though, in Martinsville 
we maybe had a winning racecar there. 

"So it's just disappointing, but it was a great fight. It 
was a championship fight; it just wasn't a championship 
car." 

"I had my hands full," Gordon agreed. "You just try to 
match yourself up against the competition. We started out 
and we were loose in and tight in the middle and loose 
off, and that's a hard thing to fix. But we got it freed 
up in the middle and that's when our car got better. 

"And we made some moves and got to the front. A lot of 
guys were struggling with handling tonight. There at the 
end we weren't as good as we needed to be but we were an 
eighth or ninth place car." 

It's almost incomprehensible that Hendrick Motorsports, 
which won nine of the 16 races with the new car a year 
ago, has only won once in the first 10 races this season, 
when the car is in use full-time. 

And nearly a third of the way into the season, Gordon's 
only had four top-10 finishes, with three others of 35th 
or worse. 

At this point last season, counting only the tracks where 
the new car was used, Gordon had three poles and a win -- 
but even greater, no start worse than third and no finish 
worse than fourth.

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This season at Bristol, in the season's fifth race, Gordon 
and his team struggled mightily, but never fell out of the 
top 20 before finishing 11th. 

That night, it was more than a half-hour after the checker-
ed flag before an emotionally and physically drained Gordon 
emerged from his No. 24 transporter to answer every 
question he was posed about that night's dilemma. 

On Saturday afternoon, when his team arrived at Richmond's 
garage and tried to fire-up its car, there was dead 
silence. They changed the starter motor, which cured the 
problem, but relegated Gordon to the back of the starting 
field. 

With a less-than-ideal car and an abysmal starting 
position, Gordon was in trouble from the get-go; and left 
him pretty thankful at what Letarte and his boys were able 
to accomplish. 

"Well, in a lot of ways it was almost a miracle to get a 
top-10 because we went down a lap so early and I was giving 
it everything I had and the leaders just drove by me like 
I was standing still," Gordon said. "And we just weren't 
getting the cautions at the right time and then I just got 
by the No. 44 [David Reutimann] and the No. 00 [Michael 
McDowell] and the caution came out and I was like 'man, 
that's the first good thing that's gone our way in a 
while.' 

"We were making gains on the car at that time and we really 
were better than a lot of guys we were racing around and we 
started driving to the front. It was pretty impressive that 
one time we drove from 30th up to about 15th or something. 
And I was really impressed with that run. We needed that." 

The biggest thing was that Gordon's points drop was 
minimal. At one point, as he raced 12th-place point man 
Kasey Kahne for a top-10 spot late in the going, it even 
seemed as if Gordon would be back in a Chase for the Cup-
qualified spot by race's end. 

As it was, he ended the night unofficially in 13th, six 
points out of 12th. 

"I'm really proud of this team," Gordon said. "That was a 
great battle -- a great fight. It showed what we're made 
of. To come home with a top 10 was good. 

"We didn't make a lot of gains in the points, but we didn't 
lose anything. It was good momentum for our team. We needed 
this run." 

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But it still leaves Hendrick's lead duo with perhaps more 
questions than answers, except when it comes to the current 
competition level in Sprint Cup. 

Gordon thinks he has an answer to the problem, though not 
how to solve it. 

"I know why it's happening," Gordon said. "It's happening 
because Goodyear is changing tires on us a little bit so 
we've had to adjust to that. The competition has gotten 
better. 

"If we come back the same, we're going to be even worse 
than we are now. That's just the way this sport is and 
how really tough and competitive it is. Your competitors 
go to work when you're good or when they're not. And 
that's what's happened. 

"And now we're in the position that we have to go to work 
and that's what we've been doing. We've been testing a lot 
these last couple of weeks." 

Letarte was singing from the same hymnal.

"It's just everything," Letarte said. "It's taking the car 
to new tracks [and] even at the tracks we were good at, 
I think the field's gotten a whole lot better. It's 
definitely different tires -- it's just everything. 

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"I wish I could tell you exactly what it was, because I 
would change it. But that's why this sport is so good, 
and that's why there are so many people in the stands -- 
it doesn't matter how you were last week, how you were 
today or how you were last year. 

"You've got to show up every week and we're just a little 
off on the chassis side, right now." 

To that end, Gordon's somewhat relieved that this weekend's 
Dodge Challenger 500 is at Darlington Raceway, a track 
where he and his team tested twice earlier this spring 
while doing Goodyear tire development. 

But even that presents no guarantees, despite the fact that 
Gordon is the race's defending champion in the race that 
the new car's fifth outing last year. 

"Yeah, I feel comfortable that we know what to expect with 
the tire," Gordon said. "When you're there in a tire test, 
you really don't get to work on speed and making the car 
better and go faster -- you're just trying to test for 
Goodyear. 

"But it gives you good data to work on back at the shop and 
I hope that it pays off for us." 

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Copyright 2008 by NextEra Media. All rights reserved.

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