Darlington: Jeff Gordon preview

AT DARLINGTON: In 29 Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington Raceway, Gordon has posted seven wins, 17 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s. He also has earned three pole positions, has an average starting spot of 6.8 and has led 1,610 laps. In the...

AT DARLINGTON: In 29 Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington Raceway, Gordon has posted seven wins, 17 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s. He also has earned three pole positions, has an average starting spot of 6.8 and has led 1,610 laps. In the last five races, Gordon has spent 91.6 percent of his laps running in the top 15.

HOT STREAK: In the last six races at Darlington, Gordon's average result is 2.7 with a lowest finish of fifth. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Chevrolet recorded one win -- May 2007 -- during that string of top-five performances. Overall, his average finish at the 1.366-mile oval is 11.3.

MOST RECENTLY AT DARLINGTON: Last year at Darlington, Gordon started second, led six laps and finished fifth after rallying back from an incident early in the race. Around the 100-lap mark of the 367-lap event, Gordon made a pit stop under green for a loose wheel. He fell a lap down, but worked his way into the top 10 with less than 100 laps to go. Pit strategy helped the No. 24 team stay there. Gordon gained five spots in the final 42 laps to finish fifth.

DARLINGTON CHASSIS: Crew chief Steve Letarte has chosen Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 24-484 for Saturday night's race at Darlington. Gordon collected three runner-up finishes last season in this car, taking second at Chicagoland Speedway in July, Michigan International Speedway in August and Kansas Speedway in October.

JEFF GORDON, DRIVER, NO. 24 DUPONT/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET (ON IF HE CONSIDERS DARLINGTON THE TOUGHEST TRACK ON THE CIRCUIT.): "It used to be the toughest track because the surface was so abrasive, and you really had to have a compromising setup for both ends of the racetrack and how you drove the car. You had to use a lot of finesse as a driver. You would come up next to the wall. Now it's smoother and has more grip, but it's still pretty treacherous because you do run right up next to the wall. It can still bite you, but not quite as much as it used to, although it's faster now and that is a factor. It's an awesome racetrack, but it can be tough at times."

GORDON (ON WHAT IT MEANS TO RACE AT DARLINGTON.): "In the past and even a little bit now as it's starting to wear out a little bit more, you can get to the edge of the grip level and there's just a small margin of error there because you're running so fast and close to the wall. That's the thing. If you focus too much on trying to outrun the competition, then you'll make a mistake. A lot of times, if you just run a nice race and keep yourself out of trouble, you will usually end up toward the top. This is not the same Darlington that it used to be; it's going to take another four or five years before it gets back to the old Darlington."

GORDON (ON HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT DARLINGTON.): "Track position is extremely important. You have to compromise as a driver, as a team with the setup because both ends of the racetrack are totally different so you're never going to have a perfect car or perfect setup. As a driver you have to work around that and try to find the fastest way. You have to have a car that's maneuverable in traffic, which is tough. That place is fast now, and it's hard to pass. That's why I say that the track position has become very important."

GORDON (ON WHAT IT MEANS TO WIN AT DARLINGTON.): "When I came along, Darlington -- the history of the track and how it fit into NASCAR's history -- was very well documented. The names, (Richard) Petty and (David) Pearson and (Cale) Yarborough and (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.), were things that stuck out to me as, 'Wow. If you can win here then you're really doing something.' So I put a lot of effort into trying to win there because I felt like it was a really cool racetrack, a tough racetrack. Only the best of the best in our sport go on to win there."

STEVE LETARTE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 DUPONT/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET (ON DARLINGTON.): "Overall, we can't wait to get back to Darlington. It's a place we only run once a year. It's not the same Darlington of years past; it's really a new racetrack since they repaved it a few years ago. And, personally, I take responsibility, as I feel that's one that we let get away last year. We had enough car to win the race, but we had some trouble on pit road. I got a little distracted in the second half of the race, and we didn't have the best pit strategy. We ended up finishing in the top five. We are excited to get back there and hopefully redeem ourselves.

"We're bringing a good-looking car with the National Guard on board. I'm a big fan of the black-and-silver paint schemes. They just look great. It's going to be a cool-looking car, especially under the lights. It's a fast race. Now it's a smooth racetrack since it's been repaved, and it's really one of the fastest tracks we go to now. We love going down there."

LETARTE (ON THE SPOILER AT DARLINGTON.): "I will be honest, the spoiler on the Impala really hasn't been a huge change. Our setups haven't changed as much as we thought. It's different in the wind tunnel, but the balance is about the same. It just has a little more total downforce. So really we run a lot of the same setups. I think it reacts a lot different in traffic, and I think that suits Jeff's style a little bit better. But there is not much you can do as a crew chief to change the car in traffic. It's really just what the driver can do with it. I don't think it will make a huge difference. The one question mark for Darlington will be it's one of those tracks you really get into the wall a lot over the course of the race. The spoilers on these cars are really set to the right. They're set to the right side of the car. So that's going to be interesting to see. In my opinion, I want to see how much damage we incur to the spoiler and see if that affects the car as we run over the course of the week.

"On the old car, the spoiler only came maybe 50 percent of the way out to the quarter panel. This spoiler on this car protrudes out almost the whole width of the quarter panel. So if you get up into the wall not only are you going to flatten the right side of your race car, you're also going to maybe peel back the right side of the spoiler a little bit."

-source: hm

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon