NASCAR: Is Steve LeTarte the Right Fit for Jeff Gordon?

Ashley McCubbinAnalyst IMay 4, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - JULY 24: Jeff Gordon (R), driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, talks with crew chief Steve Letarte (L) during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Allstate 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 24, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

A lot of people have critized Steve LeTarte for his raceday decisions and a lot of people have called for his head. Though are they all wrong? Is Steve LeTarte the right man for Jeff Gordon?


LeTarte entered his sixth full season with Gordon as he became his crew chief in 2005 at the start of the Chase once Gordon missed it.


Since LeTarte has taken over, Gordon’s lowest points finish was seventh in 2008 and highest was second in 2007.


Gordon hasn’t won a championship also since 2004 with Robbie Loomis. However, he came awful close in 2007 when he lost to teammate Jimmie Johnson. If it had been any other year, Gordon would’ve had the title in his hands. In the 36 races, Gordon had six wins, 21 top fives, 30 top 10s, an average finish of 11.3, and an average finish of 5.1 in the Chase. Johnson, meanwhile, had an average finish of 4.9 in the Chase.


Looking overall, the stats haven’t been that bad, though with it being Gordon, more is expected. The fans want to see championships and contending right in the thick of battles as that is the expectation that Gordon has built via being a four-time champion and as good as he is.


The expectations are also built higher via the success of Jimmie Johnson, his teammate and the car he co-owns that is built in the same shop as his. If their cars are built by the same people, the fans are asking questions as to why he isn’t running as well. The quickest answer is the crew chief, as that’s the main person they see as making the difference on raceday.


Are these expectations causing this questioning? Are these expectations bringing on the frustration? It’s a very good possibility, one that looking at the situation can’t be overlooked.


This year, Gordon currently sits sixth after 10 races with no wins, yet four top fives. The shocker is the zero in the wins column as Gordon has been in contention to wins, even down to a late race restart, though has come up short every time.


At Las Vegas, Gordon had the best car as he led 219 of 267 laps, though LeTarte made the call to take two tires and they ended up second to Johnson as he took four. LeTarte had good reasoning as he said the No. 24 car is never good in traffic and he was trying to stay up front. However, do you question that based on the fact that most of the teams went with four?


At Martinsville, Gordon led on the green-white-checkered finish, though got in a tussle with Matt Kenseth that resulted in an 11th place finish while Denny Hamlin won. Do you blame the crew chief for that? Nope as that was a driver’s error.


At Phoenix, Gordon led on the green-white-checkered finish again, though spun the tires and ended up second to Ryan Newman. Again, LeTarte put him in position, yet he lost it via an error of his own.


Last week at Richmond, Gordon led on the green-white-checkered finish again after staying out, yet ended up fourth after Kyle Busch took four tires and won. Do you blame LeTarte for the wrong call?


Gordon hasn’t won in 38 races now, in which some of those losses you can blame on LeTarte yet some of those you got to blame on Gordon.


In the end, though, it is LeTarte who is putting him in position to win these races. So without LeTarte doing that, we wouldn’t even be talking about Gordon being close.


In conclusion, I feel LeTarte is the right crew chief for Gordon, as he’s done well when you look at the stats overall and the wins will come, possibly followed by a championship or more if the pieces fall together.