The recently announced crew-chief carousel at Hendrick Motorsports, revealed only two days after Jimmie Johnson had won the organization’s 10th Sprint Cup title, is another illustration of the group’s strengths, Jeff Gordon said Thursday.
The moves send Steve Letarte from Gordon’s team to Dale Earnhardt Jr's., Lance McGrew from Junior’s team to Mark Martin's, and Alan Gustafson from Martin’s team to Gordon’s.
To no one’s surprise, the fourth team at Hendrick – that of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus – had no changes.
The switches are designed to rejuvenate Gordon’s championship hopes – he hasn’t won one since 2001, return Martin to the Chase in his final full-time season at Hendrick and solve the difficult puzzle of Earnhardt Jr.’s long winless string and continuing struggles at one of racing’s best organizations.
“I’m really optimistic for everybody,” said Gordon, who said he was involved in the discussions leading to the decision. “I think it’s an exciting move. I think Steve and Junior are going to mesh together very well. One of Steve’s strong points is his personality and his ability to build confidence in the people around him.
“Alan and I – I’ve always felt a good chemistry there between us. Listening to him over the years in our [track] debriefs, you discuss what’s happening. He’s just a guy that I’ve always admired. I do feel like we’ve got some chemistry there. and I’m looking forward to getting that out of the racetrack.”
Gordon said Gustafson has planned an active off-season of testing and that the team will be at Daytona International Speedway Dec. 15-16 for Goodyear tire tests there.
“I was with Alan the other day,” he said. “He works hard. He’s going to work me hard. We’ve got a pretty heavy schedule already planned.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick announced the crew-chief changes in the wake of Johnson’s fifth title.
“I think that just shows what kind of commitment we have at Hendrick Motorsports,” Gordon said. “To be celebrating a championship on Sunday and making those type of announcements two days later – it just shows that we never stop, we never rest, we’re always trying to improve.
“I think this is a move that can elevate our whole organization. That’s what I’m excited about. I’m certainly looking forward to working with Alan. I’ve known him for a number of years, and I guess in the back of my mind have always thought it would be cool to work with him.
“No decision like this is made by one person, but Rick obviously inspired it. It’s just how he does things. He understands people better than anybody I’ve ever met. I think we are always evaluating our teams and our organization and what we need to do to be better.
“Sometimes it’s one little thing, and sometimes it’s something big like this.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.