Posted on: July 30, 2010 3:54 pm
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Gordon's crew chief Letarte gets extension

Hendrick Motorsports announced a multi-year contract extension with crew chief Steve Letarte .

Heading into Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway, the 31-year-old Letarte has guided Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team to 10 wins, 21 runner-up finishes, 77 top-five finishes, 108 top-10s and 14 pole positions in 174 races. Gordon's second-place and top-five finishes during that time rank as the most among all drivers (teammate Jimmie Johnson ranks second in top-fives with 76.)

Listen to a news conference with Letarte on Friday morning at Pocono or read the transcript below.
 

Listen to Steve Letarte's news conference (8 minutes, 28 seconds)



STEVE LETARTE, CREW CHIEF NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed his contract extension, crew member changes and more.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR CONTRACT EXTENSION AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? ARE YOU EXCITED? "I'm extremely excited. Hendrick Motorsports is the only company that I've ever received a paycheck from. I've worked here since I was a teenager and they've provided wonderful opportunities for me. I owe a lot to them and I'm really excited to be extended here so we can do it for a few more years."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT JEFF DICKERSON BEING YOUR NEW SPOTTER? "Oh yeah, I'm excited to have Jeff on the roof. I think he brings a unique style. I've known Jeff for a long time. I've always heard him in my left ear for a lot of races; him and the 18 have run really strong at some of the speedways. I think the change will hopefully help us toward the end of some of the races--some of the double-file restarts get pretty wild. I think his style might maybe suit the races better."

WHAT STYLE ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? "I don't know if there is really a description to it. He is just very informative; he's almost like a commentator and less like a spotter. With a talent like Jeff [Gordon] behind the wheel I think all the information he can give us will just improve our performance."

CAN YOU GIVE US A FEW MORE DETAILS ON THE CONTRACT EXTENSION? "Yes, my extension is for three years. It seems like ever contract I've worked on here has been three years; that's kind of the template that we use. It's a great length of time for me and for the company. I'm really excited."

WHEN DO YOU THINK YOU'LL GET THAT FIRST WIN OF 2010? "I think we've been close, I feel we've been close all year long. There were a couple months there when I didn't think we had the speed that we needed. We might have had good finishes, but we didn't have the speed we had earlier in the year. Other than Indy last week I feel like we've had really good speed everywhere we've went and we're excited because Pocono is a different track. It doesn't really relate well to anything in the Chase, but there are some other track coming up--Atlanta, Michigan, some areas that I think will be very important for how you are going to run in the Chase."

YOU GUYS NEED SOME BONUS POINTS... "Oh yeah, bonus points are very important. Right now we're tied for sixth when the Chase starts. We need to be in the Chase first. I think we're getting more and more comfortable there. We've been trying to win races since February and I don't think we can do anything different to try to win races, but that is definitely our number one priority."

DOES THAT GET FRUSTRATING AT ALL? "Anytime you don't win you get frustrated. Every team in the garage wants to win races, so I think we're as frustrated as the other ones that aren't winning races. I don't think it's affecting our performance."

YOU'RE A COMPANY MAN, IT'S NOT LIKE YOU REALLY NEED A CONTRACT TO WORK FOR MR. H., BUT WHAT DOES A CONTRACT DO FOR YOU? "Yeah, I want to work for Mr. Hendrick for my entire career, but when you have a sport like this one--it reminds me a lot of college football--there is a lot of money involved, there is a lot of sponsors involved, it is a very high-pressure situation. The fact that you have a contract is always good. I have a wife and two kids so it gives me some comfort level. I agree with you. Rick is the kind of guy where a handshake would be good enough for most of us, but that's what the sport has become and that's the sport we race in."

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GO TO THE NEXT LEVEL? YOUR TEAM IS SO CLOSE. "Wins. We need to get to victory lane. Until we do that, we're second in points without wins and while that is a good statement it is also disappointing to think of how we don't have any wins. We get in the Chase. I think the team that is hottest in the Chase is going to win the championship. I think there are five or seven real contenders; 12 really good teams, but just five or seven cars that showed throughout the first 26 races that they can be contenders. If they do that then it should be a really exciting Chase to watch."

HOW LONG DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING THIS? DO YOU THINK YOU'LL STILL BE DOING THIS IN 10 YEARS? "I don't know if my crystal ball is that clear. I know right now that I have a contract extension to do this three more years and I'm really excited to do that."

IS YOUR CONTRACT WITH THE NO. 24, OR SIMPLY WITH TEAM HENDRICK? "Good question. I mean right now, I signed a contract extension and I plan on being Jeff's crew chief. What the details are of it I'd have to go back and reread it. I'm really not too concerned about it. I've worked for Rick for a number of years and we have very good friendship. I believe in his vision and how he steers the company. I'm sure if he feels that there is some other place in the organization that he feels I can suit it better then we'll sit down and talk about that. But I have no plans of changing what I'm doing."

YOU'RE BY FAR ONE OF THE YOUNGEST CREW CHIEFS OUT THERE. DO YOU FEEL LIKE A YOUNG GUY, OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE A VETERAN? "Racing is kind of like dog years. I've been in the garage since I was 16 or 17 and that's all I've ever done. So no, I don't feel young or old, I just feel like a crew chief with a driver that is capable of winning races. As a crew chief, that's all you could ask for--a team that has the support that we have, and a driver like we have, and that's it. I don't think age really has a whole lot to do with it."

DID YOU TALK TO ANY OTHER TEAMS OR DID ANYONE COME TALK TO YOU? "No, I didn't talk to anybody else. There was never a question in my mind where I wanted to end up and we just finally got the formality out of the way. I don't think Rick or I were concerned, I think it was more the media was more concerned about my contract than we were. Once Rick and I talked on the phone--I don't even know when it was--awhile ago, we knew what we were going to do. There was never a question about it. Now the formality is all finished."

DO YOU THINK THAT IT HELPED PUT YOUR COMMITMENT INTO MAKING THIS A CHAMPIONSHIP WINNING TEAM? "Well I think we put in that commitment to make this a championship team a long time ago. It's never really been in question of Rick's commitment to this team, or to any of these teams. The spotter decision is something that I've been working on not anybody in the front office--that's more my decision. The contract, like I said, is more of a formality than anything. I've never really questioned where I was going to work. Jeff and I have those conversations over the winter to make sure that we're both on the same page, and the rest of it is just a part of the sport."

AS A PART OWNER, DO YOU TALK TO JEFF AT ALL ABOUT YOUR CONTRACT? "No, I do all my stuff with the front office. I don't work for Jeff Gordon, I work for Rick Hendrick. If it has to be that way, I don't think you can work for the driver that you're going out and trying to win races for. Jeff and I work together; we don't work for each other. All of my discussions are with other people in the company."

WHEN DICKERSON BECAME AVAILABLE AS A SPOTTER WERE YOU LOOKING AT THE TIME? OBVIOUSLY HE'S THE GUY THAT YOU CAUGHT. "Well, I wouldn't say that we caught him. I'm not sure what happened over at Joe Gibbs Racing, but when we got to Indianapolis and he wasn't on the roof--that's a very talented spotter, very high in the sport as far as a rating. When something like that happens, I want to be sure that I'm aware of it and it's my job to be able to pulse the sport and know when talent becomes available. It's no different with a jackman, or a tire changer; my job is to go win races with the 24 and if that takes the crew I have or a different crew or if there are changes that we can make--every Sunday we're going to put the best group out there that we can."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE UPGRADED THAT POSITION? "I think Shano is a very, very good spotter. It's hard to say that it's an upgrade we haven't even run a practice yet. I think it's just a difference of style, a different direction, than an upgrade. I rate Shano very high; he's a very talented spotter. He's just a different style than Jeff [Dickerson], and Shano still works in our shop. He's a very talented mechanic and it's just going a different direction."

YOU PUT A LOT OF WEIGHT ON THAT RELATIONSHIP OF DRIVER-CREW CHIEF-SPOTTER. IT'S NOT SOMETHING YOU TAKE LIGHTLY? "Not at all. It's the three guys on the radio every Sunday. That's a third of the program there. The guy on the roof can have a humongous influence on how your day turns out. Absolutely. It's not a change we made lightly; it may have happened in a short time, but has a lot of hours and a lot of stress behind it. I feel like we made the right decision and now I'm just excited to move forward with it."

WHAT ABOUT ARIC ALMIROLA? YOU'RE GOING TO PUT HIM IN THE CAR FOR PRACTICE THIS WEEKEND? "We're on baby watch too, so Jeff and Ingrid are expecting their second child. While we support them 100%, we have no plans for Jeff not to drive the car, but just like making the spotter change it's a good idea to have a plan if something were to go wrong. If something were to occur where the baby was coming and Jeff had to leave, I want to be sure that the driver has already been decided on, Rick is involved, everybody is involved and there aren't a lot of questions. We're just going to put him in two laps on Saturday in practice just to make sure he's comfortable in the car. That will be it. I don't' expect it to be too big of a deal."

AND IT'S A COMFORTABLE DECISION BECAUSE HE WAS IN THE 48--HE DID A GOOD JOB. "Yeah, he was the natural person. We weren't really sure if he'd fit in our car, but we poured a seat liner in to make him work. He's a little taller than Jeff. He's a really great kid, he's really easy to work with and I think he's a very good, talented guy. We're excited to have him."

DID JEFF HAVE ANY KIND OF SAY IN YOUR CONTRACT EXTENSION? DID YOU TALK TO HIM AT ALL? "You'd have to ask Jeff on what he had in it; I haven't discussed anything with him."

DID YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS OR DOUBTS, LIKE 'MAN THIS IS JUST TOO MUCH?' "Not about the contract. The only fight I had was at the end of last year when I sat down with Jeff to make sure we were on the same page with where this team needed to go. Once we got that out of the way, the rest of it has really been kind of natural."


Posted on: July 28, 2010 10:45 am
Edited on: July 28, 2010 2:23 pm
 

Labonte to replace Ambrose at JTG in 2011


While Bobby Labonte may be somewhat of a nomad this season, he'll have a more permananent home next year. JTG Daugherty has signed the 2000 Cup Series champion to driver the No. 47 car, which will be vacated by Marcos Ambrose at season's end.

Labonte started the season with TRG Motorsports, but when they began to have him start and park, he opted out of his contract. Aside from TRG, he has also driven for Robby Gordon Motorsports and Phoenix Racing this year. His schedule for the remainder of the season appears somewhat murky, though he is scheduled to return to TRG for at least four races. He's a good pick-up because he holds a past champion's provisional.

“JTG Daugherty Racing is a solid race team that has come close to winning races with Marcos Ambrose and I’m looking forward to developing our new partnership in 2011,” Labonte said. “The team is thriving and their technical alliance with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) is intact. It’s great to have next year already set in stone so when this season ends we can begin focusing on next year right away. Everything is in place and we have all the right ingredients to win races together.”

Labonte hasn't enjoyed much success the second half of the decade. Since 2005, his best finish in the standings is 18th (2007). In the past four seasons he has a total of seven top 10s. He has not won a Cup race since 2003. After leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2005 season, he spent three years in the No. 43 car for Petty Enterprises. Last year he drove for Hall of Fame Racing/Yates Racing and TRG.

The rumor mill continues to strongly link Ambrose with Richard Petty Motorsports.

-- Brian De Los Santos

Posted on: July 27, 2010 12:10 pm
Edited on: July 27, 2010 12:10 pm
 

Ambrose, JTG to part ways; RPM in his future?


Marcos Ambrose
and JTG Daugherty Racing have announced that they'll be parting ways at the end of the season. In 67 career Cup races, Ambrose has notched five top fives and 10 top 10s. Though he says in the press release that he doesn't have anything lined up and that a retrun to Australia is possible, he's rumored to be heading to Richard Petty Motorsports, which has Kasey Kahne's seat to fill and possibly that of Elliott Sadler and AJ Allmendinger.

No word on who JTG Daugherty might look at to fill Ambrose's seat. If Sam Hornish Jr. could be a possibility if he loses his ride at Penske Racing.

Press release follows:

HARRISBURG, N.C. (July 27, 2010) - - After five successful years together in NASCAR’s top touring divisions, JTG Daugherty Racing and Marcos Ambrose will part ways at the end of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

“JTG Daugherty Racing and our sponsors are obviously huge Marcos Ambrose fans and we are disappointed to see him leave after five great years of building a program together from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, to the Nationwide Series, and into the Sprint Cup Series,” said Tad Geschickter, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing along with Brad Daugherty and Jodi Geschickter. “Marcos is a friend and he is a great talent. He will be an asset to his next team.

“While we hate to see him move on at the end of the season, we will remain focused on winning races with Marcos,” Geschickter continued.  "We are excited about our company's development. We have NASCAR’s greatest and most loyal sponsors, a growing fan base, and a steadily improving race team.”

“We have enjoyed working with Marcos and getting to know his family and friends from both the United States and Australia,” Jodi Geschickter added. “They have brought a lively dimension to our racing family and we have appreciated the opportunity to get to know them. Although we will miss Marcos, we have an amazing team at JTG Daugherty Racing and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2011.”

Daugherty echoes the Geschickter’s sentiments and wishes Ambrose much success in his future endeavors.   

“We are thankful for the opportunity to work with Marcos for the last five years and it has been an enjoyable experience,” Daugherty said. “We wish him the utmost success and best wishes. JTG Daugherty Racing has a bright future and we already have great plans in place for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.”

The two-time V8 Supercar champion’s first appearance with JTG Daugherty Racing was at Martinsville Speedway in 2006 when he made his NASCAR debut in the Camping World Truck Series. Ambrose naturally progressed the next year to the NASCAR Nationwide Series spending two years in the division before competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the racing organization.

“It has been a great five year journey for me and JTG Daugherty Racing,” Ambrose said. “I am proud of being their driver and of what we have been able to accomplish together. I want to personally thank Tad, Jodi and Brad and the entire race team for everything they have done. Our plan is to complete the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with the same desire and commitment and end our relationship the same way it started with a positive attitude and the willingness to win. I will do everything I can to help JTG Daugherty transition into next year with their new driver.

“After five years, I personally felt it was time for a change,” Ambrose continued. “I have no firm plans of what will come next for me and my career. I would like to continue in NASCAR and finish off what I started, but I have not discounted returning to Australia. I’m grateful to JTG Daugherty Racing for giving me an opportunity to become a NASCAR driver and I wish them the best in the future.”

The Launceston, Tasmania Australia native has recorded four top-five and nine top-10 finishes with JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and has also delivered two Nationwide Series victories. His career-best Cup finish is a second-place finish at Watkins Glen International last season.

Currently Ambrose has two top-10 finishes and is 27th in the driver points standings after 20 starts this season.

JTG Daugherty Racing will make an announcement in the near future regarding their driver for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.


Posted on: July 26, 2010 10:59 am
 

Silly Season rumors make the rounds at Indy

The rumor mill was churning loudly during the Sprint Cup weekend at Indianapolis

-- Jamie McMurray can probably expect a nice raise. This year's Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 champion currently has just a one-year contract with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, but a new deal is in the works.

-- The Kasey Kahne saga still continues to impact a number of teams.

Mark Martin is upset that he's constantly being nagged about his status for next season. He insists he's not going anywhere and will be the driver of the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2011. However, it does sound as if Hendrick would rather have Kahne in the seat if at all possible.

Meanwhile, Mike Mulhern reports that talks to put Kahne in Phoenix Racing's 09 car have fallen through and that James Finch will likely shut down or sell his operation at the end of the season.

-- ESPN.com reports that Budweiser could be headed to Kevin Harvick 's No. 29 car at that an announcement may come at Watkins Glen. Harvick's current sponsor Shell/Pennzoil is moving to Penske Racing's No. 22 car where it will sponsor Kurt Busch starting in 2011. The Shell arrangement left Mobil 1 the odd sponsor out at Penske and it could wind up at Stewart Haas.

-- Scene Daily reports that Red Bull is still contemplating whether to bring back Scott Speed for another season. In his second season, Speed sits 26th in points but he has been running at the finish of every race this season. A year ago he had eight DNFs. He has just three top 10s in 60 career starts in the Cup Series.

Posted on: July 23, 2010 4:48 pm
 

Where will Hornish race in 2011?


Back in April, Roger Penske insisted he had every intention of keeping Sam Hornish Jr. in the 77 car in 2011 and Hornish said he had no interest in returning to the IndyCar Series.

Friday at Indianapolis, Hornish admitted his future is a bit more cloudy than he would prefer.

"No updates as far as I'm concerned yet," he said. "I'd definitely like to be back in the Sprint Cup series and I'm going to work to be able to try to do that. Definitely, things are still tough with the economy and trying to find full-time sponsors and things like that. We're going to do everything we can do to make that happen and be back in Sprint Cup."

Some major changes are in store for the Penske team in 2011. For starters,
Kurt Busch is leaving Miller Lite and the No. 2 car to driver a No. 22 car with sponsorship from Shell/Pennzoil. Brad Keselowski , in his first year with Penske in the 12 car, will take over Busch's No. 2 ride, which is expected to retain Miller Lite as its sponsor.

With Shell aboard Busch's 22 car in 2011, Penske is in need of a new sponsor to replace Mobil 1 on the 77 car. And there's the snag as sponsorship hasn't materialized for an underperforming Hornish. A three-time IndyCar Series champion, the jump to NASCAR has failed to result in much success.

Hornish still says he not particularly inclined to return to the IndyCar Series if Penske can't keep him in a Cup car, but if he tries to stay in NASCAR, I don't know that the options are all that great. Maybe Richard Petty Motorsports, which looks to have a couple of seats to fill with Kasey Kahne jumping ship and Elliott Sadler not expected to return. Outside of RPM, the major teams don't appear to have any openings and would Hornish really be their first option if they did?

It may be time for Hornish to swallow his pride and return to Indy cars where he can be one of the big dogs again.


-- Brian De Los Santos



Posted on: July 23, 2010 2:20 pm
 

Reutimann finally signs contract extension


It's been reported for weeks that David Reutimann would be resigning with Michael Waltrip Racing, but it was finally announced as official on Friday. The deal will keep Reutimann, who picked up his second career -- and first non rain-shortened -- victory at Chicagoland two weeks ago.

Aaron's will remain as the primary sponsor for at least 30 races in each of the next two seasons and holds an option for 2013.
Posted on: July 21, 2010 11:08 am
 

Labonte, TRG to team up again

While he may have severed his contract with TRG Motorsports earlier this season, Bobby Labonte isn't totally through driving the No. 71 car.

Labonte has agreed to drive TRG's No. 71 car in at least four more races -- Pocono (Aug. 1), Michigan (Aug. 15), Atlanta (Sept. 5), and Texas (Nov. 7).
Posted on: July 10, 2010 3:28 pm
 

Sadler doesn't expect to return to RPM in 2011


Add Elliott Sadler to the growing list of drivers who expect to have a new address in 2011. The veteran driver didn't make anything official but has told reporters he'd be surprised if he returned to the wheel of the No. 19 Richard Petty Motorsports entry next season.

With Kasey Kahne already set to depart RPM for Hendrick Motorsports and A.J. Allmendinger also not sure of his plans, the RPM stable will have a completely different look next season if the team remains intact.

Sadler believes his services will fill a void for some team on the Cup level but don't rule out a full-time Nationwide or truck series ride for the Virginia driver if nothing materializes in NASCAR's top division.

-- Pete Pistone
 
 
 
 
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