Sports Now

Sports news from Los Angeles and beyond

Category: Jeff Gordon

NASCAR's Hendrick: Crew-chief shuffle not just about helping Dale Earnhardt Jr.


Hendrick Motorsports' shuffling of crew chiefs for three of its four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams was not aimed only at helping Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebound from his long slump, team owner Rick Hendrick said Wednesday.

"This was not a move we made because of Dale or his situation," Hendrick told reporters on a conference call. The whole organization "just kind of got complacent, and other teams were just getting stronger and stronger," he said.

Hendrick announced Tuesday that Earnhardt would now be paired with Steve Letarte, who had been Jeff Gordon's crew chief. Lance McGrew will move from Earnhardt's team to be Mark Martin's crew chief, and crew chief Alan Gustafson was moved from Martin's car to Gordon's.

Jimmie Johnson, who won an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cup title on Sunday, stays with longtime crew chief Chad Knaus. But Hendrick said even Johnson's team "was off" at times this season.

"We need to be better across the board," Hendrick said. "We’re going to get better; we’re going to work harder. I thought it was time to shake it up a bit."

Hendrick finished 1-2-3 in the Cup standings in 2009 with Johnson, Martin and Gordon, respectively. But this year, Gordon finished ninth in points, Martin was 13th and Earnhardt 21st. None of those three drivers won during the 36-race season this year.

Earnhardt, in fact, has gone 93 races since his last win in 2008, even though Hendrick in mid-2009 replaced Earnhardt's then-crew-chief, Earnhardt's cousin Tony Eury Jr., with McGrew.

"Sometimes it just gets to a point, the frustration sets in and it just can’t work," Hendrick said. "It doesn’t mean that Dale is not a good driver or Lance isn’t a good crew chief. It just got to the point where it was not working, and we needed to do something different.

"One of things I want to do before I hang it up is I want to make sure I give [Earnhardt] everything he needs to get the job done," Hendrick said. "It’s not for lack of effort on our behalf or a lack of effort on his. The pressure is there, I accept it."

--Jim Peltz

Photo: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88) leads Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Nov. 14 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Credit: Jennifer Stewart / US Presswire

Hendrick shuffles crew chiefs for NASCAR's Earnhardt, Gordon and Martin


Hendrick Motorsports on Tuesday shuffled crew chiefs for three of its four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.

While the team's fourth driver, Jimmie Johnson, won an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cup championship on Sunday, the others had varying degrees of problems this season, prompting the changes.

Hendrick made the following crew-chief switches:

-- Steve Letarte moved to Earnhardt from Gordon.

-- Alan Gustafson moved to Gordon from Martin.

-- Lance McGrew moved to Martin from Earnhardt.

In addition, Hendrick said Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolets would now be built in the same shop as Johnson's No. 48 cars, while Gordon's No. 24 Chevys would be built in the same shop as Martin's No. 5 cars. Previously, Gordon and Johnson shared the same building.

Chad Knaus remains Johnson's crew chief.

"We had a championship season but we weren't where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams," owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement from his Concord, N.C., headquarters.

Gordon was the only Hendrick driver besides Johnson to qualify for this year's 12-driver Chase for the Cup title playoff, and Gordon finished ninth in the standings with 11 top-five finishes but no wins. Gordon has gone 65 races without a victory.

Martin, who will go into the last year of his contract with Hendrick next year, finished 13th in points and has gone 45 races without a win.

And Earnhardt, perhaps NASCAR's most popular driver, has struggled for more than two years. He finished 21st in the standings this season, had only three top-five finishes and is on a 93-race winless streak.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, talks with team owner Rick Hendrick before the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., on Sept. 5. Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images

NASCAR's Jeff Burton says he and Jeff Gordon 'moving forward' after fight

Jeff Burton said Tuesday that he spoke again with rival Jeff Gordon about how they came to blows at their race in Texas and that both NASCAR drivers "are moving forward."

"We had a great conversation," Burton told reporters on a conference call ahead of the next race Sunday in Phoenix. "We ended up laughing a little bit about some of the things that were said and some of the things that were done. And Jeff and I are moving forward."


Burton's No. 31 Chevrolet collided with Gordon's No. 24 Chevy at the Sprint Cup Series race last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, and Gordon's car slammed into the wall.

After the drivers climbed from their cars, four-time champion Gordon gave Burton a hard shove and the two briefly traded swings before safety officials kept them apart.

Gordon was furious that the 43-year-old Burton, one of the most respected drivers in the NASCAR garage, had driven into him. But Burton immediately apologized and said Tuesday he didn't mean to cause a wreck.

"I can promise you this, I did not intentionally turn Jeff Gordon driver-side first into the wall," Burton said. "That's malicious and that's not just how I am."

Meanwhile, NASCAR further penalized driver Kyle Busch for making an obscene gesture at a NASCAR official that was caught on his in-car camera and shown on nationwide television.

Busch, who drives the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, was angry about a pit-road violation he'd just received, and NASCAR ordered him to park his car for two laps immediately after he made the gesture. On Tuesday, Busch also was fined $25,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31.

Busch, 25, issued an apology Tuesday, saying, "I lost my cool, plain and simple. It's not acceptable and I know that."

Burton, Gordon and Busch are among the 12 drivers in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup title playoff, but all three are out of contention with only two races remaining in the 10-race Chase.

Only three drivers still have a realistic chance: Chase leader Denny Hamlin, who won at Texas; reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, now 33 points behind Hamlin; and Kevin Harvick, who's 59 points back.

--Jim Peltz


NASCAR's Hendrick team leaves pit-crew swap in place for Jimmie Johnson


Hendrick Motorsports' startling mid-race decision to swap Jimmie Johnson's pit crew with Jeff Gordon's will be left in place for the final two races of the season.

Hendrick said Monday that Johnson, seeking an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship but now 33 points behind Sunday's winner and point leader Denny Hamlin, will use Gordon's crew at Phoenix Internationational Raceway on Sunday and at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida the following week.

Johnson finished ninth Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway after his regular pit crew struggled with tire changes early in the Sprint Cup Series race. After Gordon's car later was knocked out of the race in a crash, Johnson's crew was benched in favor of Gordon's crew.

Multi-car teams previously have swapped pit crews in between races -- last month, for instance, Richard Childress Racing gave Clint Bowyer's crew to teammate Kevin Harvick -- but the Hendick switch in the middle of a race was highly unusual. Harvick is third in the Chase for the Cup title playoff, 59 points behind Hamlin.

Some NASCAR watchers wondered what effect the Texas switch would have on the morale of Johnson's crew at the Phoenix race, but Hendrick's decision to leave the change in place appears to circumvent that potential problem.

Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, defended the move after the race, noting that in-game substitutions are common in many other sports. "We needed to do something" to keep Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet in contention for the title, Knaus said.

Johnson agreed. "You watch pro sports and if people aren't getting the job done you've got to pull them out and put someone else in," the El Cajon native said. "I really do care for these guys with the bottom of my heart. They're my guys. But, man, we have to perform."

--Jim Peltz

Photo: Jeff Gordon's pit crew services Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet after Johnson's crew was benched in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on Sunday. Credit: LM Otero/Associated Press


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About the Reporters
Sports Now is written by the entire Sports department of the L.A. Times.

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Bleacher Report | Los Angeles

Reader contributions from Times partner Bleacher Report

More on Bleacher Report »

Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: