Letarte wins Crew Chief of the Race As gloomy clouds slowly crept their way through the mountains to Pocono Raceway during the running of the Pocono 500, Steve Letarte, crew chief for the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet team, changed strategy. Opting to keep his driver, Jeff Gordon, on the track as the leaders pitted during the caution was risky, but paid off. The gutsy call took the DuPont team off pit strategy with the rest of the field; however, using the weather radar as guidance, Letarte judged that the race would be shortened and was able to quickly calculate fuel mileage, possible laps remaining and the strategy of the other competitors to make the race winning call. For his amazing pressure decision and race day calculations, Letarte won the WYPALL* Wipers Crew Chief of the Race.
After rain delayed the waving of the green flag by three hours, the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team, starting from the 18th position, turned solid laps just outside of the top 10. When debris brought out the third caution of the day on lap 67, Letarte’s decision to alter his race strategy from a 200 lap race (as it was scheduled to run) to a shortened event came into play. Taking advice from his spotter, engineer and car chief, Letarte instructed Gordon to stay on the track to pick up valuable track position, while planning for the shortened race. The decision looked to fall apart as Gordon needed to pit for fuel under green only 20 laps later, dropping him to 26th place. As calculated by Letarte, green flag pit stops were required by front-runners at lap 96, just shy of the all-important half mark of the race. As Letarte and Gordon watched the front runners dive down pit lane, the circulation of pit stops brought the No. 24 Chevrolet to the front again. As the clouds opened up on lap 106, bringing out a red flag to stop the race due to rain, the decision was made to end the race giving the DuPont team their fourth win of the season.
At the conclusion of the race, Letarte was quick to praise his team for their swift work in calculating the possible scenario. “I got the advice from our car chief and engineer as our spotter was calling in the approaching rain,” said Letarte. “Today with the weather we were very lucky.” Gordon gave the credit for the win to his crew chief for making the calculated call. “I trusted what he said and when he told me to stay out, I just did what I was told,” said Gordon.
A panel of voters, including a member of the local media, Tony Eury Jr., Kenny Francis, Robbie Reiser and a WYPALL* Wipers representative, all agreed Letarte was the crew chief of the race winner. “That was some awesome calculation and planning on their part,” said Francis on the Letarte team. “It seemed they judged perfectly when the rain would fall. Congratulations to them on a great day.
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