Unplanned Summer Vacation
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (June 26) – - Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus will not be allowed at a NASCAR track until mid-August. The crew chiefs for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were suspended for the next 6 races in light of pre-qualifying inspection failures at Sonoma. The cars of Gordon and Johnson were found to have their front fenders beyond NASCAR's unwritten limits -- in other words, they apparently violated a rule that doesn't exist (without a doubt, singled out, the only way I know). In addition, each crew chief was fined $100,000 and put on probation until December 31. The drivers were docked 100 points each, which trimmed Gordon's points lead to 171 over Denny Hamlin. For Johnson, the penalty dropped him from 3rd to 5th in the standings. "I'm not going to skirt responsibility for anything that happens to the car," Letarte said. "That's my responsibility. I sign the inspection sheet stating (that) it's my responsibility. It's unfortunate part of the business but it's a part of the business that we've all grown to love. We love racing and to be a part of this sport at this level, you've accepted it." Earlier this season, NASCAR also suspended crew chief Tony Eury Jr. for six races after Dale Earnhardt Jr's Chevrolet Impala had an improperly adjusted rear wing. Earnhardt Jr. also lost 100 points. The points penalty will not hinder Gordon's efforts in qualifying for the chase for the championship. However, losing his crew chief for the next 6 races could produce a summer roadblock. Car chief Jeff Meendering will likely take on additional responsibilities during race weekend. "It is something that we do," Knaus said of the supposed fender infraction. "It is no different than trying to find the proper shock package. It is no different than the drivers trying to find a new line around a race track. We always try to make the cars a little bit better. The thing that you have to realize, as a competitor, if you are winning races, the guys that you are beating are working doubly as hard to try to catch you and to try to beat you. So, if you don't continue to try to evolve, you are not going to stay on top of the curve."
SONOMA, CA. (June 25) – - Jeff Gordon scored the 300th top-10 finish of his NASCAR career on June 17 at Michigan Speedway. With just 489 starts in the Cup series, the finish puts him in line with other legends of the sport in collecting 300 top-10's in fewer than 500 starts. Richard Petty accomplished the task in 1969 in his 439th career start; David Pearson picked up his 300th top-10 in 1976 in his 449th start; Dale Earnhardt's 300th came in 1994 in his 463rd start; Darrell Waltrip scored #300 in 1989 in his 470th start, while Bobby Allison accomplished the feat in 1980 in his 475th start. With competition as close as it is today, it remains to be seen whether another driver can get to 300 top-10's in fewer than 500 career starts. The most likely candidates would be Tony Stewart who has 179 top-10's in 300 races, and Jimmie Johnson who has accumulated 120 top-10 finishes in 199 races.
SONOMA, CA. (June 25) – - Jeff Gordon's 7th place effort at Infineon Raceway is below his lofty career standards at the track, but on a day where he started 41st, the finish might seem like a moral victory. Gordon battled heavy traffic for the balance of the day, which started at the green flag. He moved up to 27th before a pit stop on lap 14. Following a caution one lap later, Gordon restarted 32nd and worked through traffic to climb to 17th on lap 35. During the pit stop sequence he ran as high as 2nd place. He pitted for tires on lap 42, which preceded a caution period. Gordon restarted 18th and entered the top-10 on lap 60. He stopped for tires on lap 66, and came in 11 laps after that for fuel only to make it to the end. Gordon was 23rd on lap 77 and then went to work. Traffic hindered his effort as he moved up to 15th with 12 laps to go. He re-entered the top-10 with 6 to go as drivers ahead of him pitted for fuel. At the finish, he was a distant 7th. "We played the strategy the best way we possibly could," Gordon said. "But those guys were able to make it all the way and we weren't. We had to get a splash and go. It was fun to come from that far back. It was tough, early on were were tight and got the car freed up later." At the front of the field, Juan Pablo Montoya played the fuel mileage game correctly and claimed his first career victory. "He's just like what we all expected him to be," Gordon said of Montoya. "He's talented and extremely aggressive. When he calmed down and was smooth, he was extremely fast. They obviously played a great pit strategy. I don't think he had the car to beat for the win on speed-wise, but the fastest car doesn't always win. I was expecting him to be a little faster, but he won the race. He's extremely talented and has a tremendous amount of car control."
Ella Sofia Arrives
NEW YORK, N.Y. (June 20) – - Jeff Gordon and Ingrid Vandebosch welcomed their daughter into the world shortly after 9am on Wednesday morning. Ella Sofia Gordon weighed 7 pounds, 1 ounce and was 20 inches long. "It's been an absolutely incredible experience," Gordon said in a written statement. "Ingrid came through amazingly and we're both really happy and overjoyed. We can't wait to get home and start our lives together as a family." The midweek birth allowed Gordon to spend some time with his wife and newborn daughter before heading to Sonoma, California for the weekend race.
Golden Anniversary For A Classic
CONCORD, N.C. (June 18) – - The 1957 Chevrolet, a car which turns 50 years old this year, will be commemorated during the August race weekend at Michigan Speedway. Jeff Gordon will be among a dozen Chevrolet drivers with special paint schemes to commemorate the anniversary. Due to its light weight compared to other cars of the time, it became a favorite for drag racers. The 1957 Chevy also enjoyed NASCAR success, with General Motors building special cars to compete on the circuit. Buck Baker won 10 out of 40 races that year en route to the NASCAR championship.
Stuck In Between
BROOKLYN, MI. (June 18) – - Jeff Gordon finished 9th at Michigan Speedway on a day when he could never seem to get the handling exactly as he wanted it. Gordon started 6th and moved up to 3rd by lap 15. However, he was unable to accelerate off the corners due to a loose handling condition. He dropped to 10th on lap 66 before a two-tire pit stop under caution put him in the lead on lap 74. The two-tire decision paid off as Gordon was in front of the day's biggest incident triggered when Ryan Newman spun on the backstretch. Four other drivers were swept up in the melee. Gordon held the lead until lap 86 when Jimmie Johnson passed. On lap 116, Gordon came in to top off his fuel tank under caution, putting him back in 17th place. Over the final 80 laps he worked through race traffic but was hindered by a lack of cautions. He entered the top-10 on lap 191 and took 9th with four laps to go.
Welcome To The Club
CONCORD, N.C. (June 13) – - As it turned out, there was indeed room at the inn. Rather, you make room by any means necessary. Three weeks after declaring "no room at the inn," Hendrick Motorsports CEO Rick Hendrick reached an agreement with Dale Earnhardt Jr to join the racing organization beginning in 2008. Earnhardt Jr. was perhaps the most coveted free agent in NASCAR history due in large part to his popularity and merchandising profitability. Earnhardt Jr. will replace Kyle Busch on the Hendrick roster. Busch will be released from the organization at the conclusion of the 2007 season. Earnhardt Jr. will join four-time champion Jeff Gordon, reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, and Casey Mears on the Hendrick team next season. For Dale Earnhardt Jr. it's all about winning races and championships. And, right now, there's no better place to do that than Hendrick Motorsports.
BLAKESLEE, PA. (June 11) – - Winning races is as much about strategy as it is about having the best car. Jeff Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte proved that during the Pocono 500. Gordon struggled in the first 60 laps at Pocono Raceway with a myriad of handling and brake problems. That's when Letarte gambled on race strategy. The race had started three hours late due to rain, and more was forecast later in the day. Gordon moved up from his 18th starting spot and was running 8th when the caution waved on lap 66. Letarte chose to keep Gordon on the track. Gordon inherited the lead and then pitted under the green flag on lap 82. The rest of the field came to pit road between laps 93-95. Carl Edwards tried to stretch it but came into the pits on lap 98, thereby giving the lead back to Gordon. There was a 15-lap window where Gordon would lead before he'd need to come onto pit road. On lap 105, Ryan Newman challenged Gordon for the lead just as rain began falling. Gordon held Newman off as the race was eventually red flagged and later called due to rain and pending darkness at 7:30pm. "Steve Letarte won this race today," Gordon said. "He made a risky pit call for track position. I can't believe we just won this race. We've had some drama this year on our wins. You win some this way and lose some this way, so we won this one today." Letarte credited the team's spotter for the weather-related strategy. "We had a decent car but it was so hard to pass," Letarte said. "(Spotter) Shannon (McGlamery) called it. He saw some rain clouds coming and told me to check the radar."
Back To Old School
ROSSBURG, OH. (June 7) – - Jeff Gordon made his return to Eldora Speedway in Ohio on June 6. Gordon captured some memorable sprint car races at the track before he made the move south to embark on a NASCAR career. The lessons he learned two decades ago on the Ohio half-mile are routinely applied on tracks from Loudon to Sonoma and all points in between. When track owner Tony Stewart asked him to return to Eldora for an exhibition race against several of his NASCAR competitiors, he jumped at the chance. It was Gordon's first time in a late model car-- though you'd never know it from watching him during the Prelude To The Dream event. He ran among the leaders all night and briefly took the lead of the event in the main feature from Carl Edwards. However, Edwards re-assumed the top spot as Gordon eventually lost 2nd place to Kyle Busch before crossing the finish line in 3rd position. The event on the high-banked oval featured 26 drivers, each driving a 2,300-pound late model stock car. "It was a good race car and I was just playing catch-up all night long," Gordon said. "I was just trying to learn this type of a car but in the feature I was having a blast. I got the lead and I was good once I got it. I was just so shocked when I got it. I was running the middle and Carl Edwards got back by me on the bottom. I just lost a little bit of momentum there and I wasn't able to get it back."
Surviving The Monster
DOVER, DE. (June 3) – - Sometimes it's not about excelling, it's about surviving. That describes Jeff Gordon's day in the A at Dover International Speedway. Starting the rain-delayed race in 6th position, Gordon and his crew fought a loose car for the first half of the race, falling back as far as a lap down but gradually fighting their way back through major chassis adjustments and shrewd pit strategy. As other significant competitors fell, crew chief Steve Letarte kept his driver focused, and after pit stops on laps 328 and 356 for spring rubbers and track bar adjustments, got Gordon back into the top 10 to stay. At one point, Letarte told Gordon "I never thought I'd say this, but I wish this race were 500 laps again," since they had finally gotten the car to a competitive point. In the last 10 laps, Gordon fell back from sixth to ninth after nearly hitting the wall due to an encounter with Greg Biffle. At the front of the field, Martin Truex Jr. won his first race in dominant fashion. "It was a really hard-fought ninth place finish," Gordon said. "I started off the race great. I drove to the front and thought we were going to have an awesome day but it just went downhill from there. We made all kinds of adjustments but never really seemed to be able to get it right."
Take Another Road
SOUTH FLORIDA. (June 5) – - Bill France Jr passed away on Monday at the age of 74. France took over as NASCAR Chairman from his father in 1972. At the time, NASCAR was strictly a regional sport with few races on television-- and none broadcast live. He made an immediate splash by signing a deal with RJ Reynolds to assume title sponsorship of the top series. Along the way, France brokered television contracts to bring the sport into every living room in America. Perhaps his crowning achievement came with CBS' flag-to-flag coverage of the 1979 Daytona 500. The network would go on to broadcast the Great American Race every year until a billion dollar deal with FOX and NBC ushered in the 2001 season. It was France who made the decision to move NASCAR's annual awards ceremony to New York City. If you want media exposure, France rationalized that you've got to be where the media is. Instead of strictly automobile-related products sponsoring races and teams as was the case before his tenure, France brought Fortune 500 companies into the sport throughout the 1980's. France's father was responsible for organizing stock car racing into a sport. But it was France who took the sport to the next level. Not only did he carry the torch, but the flame burned brightest during his tenure. There's an outpost in the ocean off the coast of somewhere beautiful stocked with marlin. There's a small marina with a long wooden dock and a boathouse with a thatched roof. It's a place where the sun dances across the outer edges of the water at sunset. A couple of old buddies are heading out to catch up on old times. A few minutes later, Dale pulls the hook out of his catch. He looks at his friend through tinted sunglasses, throws the fish back in the azure sea, and casts again.
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