MARCH MADNESS HAS LETARTE THINKING ABOUT "FINAL 12" APPEARANCE BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 17, 2009) - During a time of year when many people are thinking about universities securing a possible "Final Four" appearance, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet crew...
MARCH MADNESS HAS LETARTE THINKING ABOUT "FINAL 12" APPEARANCE
BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 17, 2009) - During a time of year when many people are thinking about universities securing a possible "Final Four" appearance, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet crew chief Steve Letarte is in the early stages of making a "Final 12" run for his institution of higher learning.
"I went to the university of Hendrick Motorsports," said Letarte. "I'm more interested in making sure this team makes the final 12 for those last 10 races and the 'Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.'"
Letarte began his career at Hendrick as a parts assistant in 1995. He has been there for each of Jeff Gordon's four NASCAR Cup Series championships, working as a mechanic, tire specialist and car chief. In September of 2005, Letarte was promoted to crew chief and, six races later, was celebrating his first victory calling the shots for Team
DuPont. After a two-win campaign and a sixth-place finish in the point standings in 2006, Letarte helped lead the team to six wins, 30 top-10's in 36 events and a second-place finish in the point standings in 2007. That year also marked the introduction of the "Car of Tomorrow" (CoT) in selected events.
In 2008, the CoT was raced in each event. Although the team posted 13 top-fives, 19 top-10's and finished seventh in the final standings, it was the first year that Letarte did not reach Victory Lane as a member of the No. 24 team.
"We were successful in 2007, but the learning curve is steep with the new car," Letarte said. "We got behind last year and we didn't have the year any of us wanted in 2008. "But this entire No. 24 team worked hard over the offseason and their effort is showing in our performance." That effort has Gordon atop the standings after four races in 2009. He has a 5.75 average finish and has led each event, but those races were all on tracks over 1.5-miles in length. This Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway is the first short-track event of the season.
"They made some changes to the track in 2007 and, while I like the changes because there are now multiple grooves, we just haven't quite figured it out yet," said Gordon, who has five wins, five poles, 13 top-fives and 19 top-10's in 32 starts at the 0.533-mile track. "But we are learning more and more every lap we complete here."
"Our education continues with this car," Letarte added. "While Bristol is completely different from any of the tracks we raced on so far this year, I believe some of what we learned in the first four races will translate over to this weekend.
"When I first started with this team, Jeff won four spring events here (from 1995 to 1998). I want to get back to those types of afternoons."