Loomis Gets Gordon Back On Winning Track

The combination doesn’t quite match up to Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham. Not yet, at least.

But from the time they joined forces, Gordon and his new crew chief, Robbie Looomis, believed they could be a powerful combination. With their first victory together at the DieHard 500 a week ago, Gordon and Loomis are even more convinced they’re on their way.

"I’ve been saying since I took over this job that it’s like we’re building a new building,” said Loomis, who left Petty Enterprises to join Hendrick Motorsports during the off-season. "Throughout the year, I feel like we’re starting to lay some foundation.

"Things are coming together, people are working well."

Listen to Loomis, and Gordon gets the credit. Hear Gordon talk, and Loomis is the man who made a major transition seamless.

"The best part of what we’ve done is not get overly frustrated and start pointing fingers and start getting mad," said Gordon, who went through a stretch of 13 races without a victory before collecting his first of the season and the 50th of his career at Talladega, Ala.

"A lot of that credit goes to him. He’s very good with people and seeing what they need to stick together."

The transition undergone by Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet team cannot be minimized.

In Evernham, Gordon lost the man who guided him to 47 victories and three NASCAR Winston Cup championships. He was a strong personality with high expectations for his employees. He was the man who translated what Gordon felt in the car and interpreted what changes needed to be made. He was the voice in Gordon’s ear, keeping an excitable driver’s emotions in check or pumping him up when that’s what he needed.

The qualities that made Evernham the perfect person to mold Gordon from a 22-year-old rookie into the youngest three-time champ are the same ones that made him right to lead Dodge’s return to Winston Cup racing. And he was ready for the challenge.

Loomis is not Ray Evernham. He is his own man, with his own ideas and systems. Loomis arrived at Hendrick with the respect of his peers and nine years’ experience as a crew chief with Petty Enterprises on his resume.

"Anybody The King respects, I respect," Gordon said. "But once I got in touch with him and talked to him on the phone, I started to realize not just how good a person he is but how well he can do at what he needed: being somebody that works well with people, with the team, and his knowledge of the race cars and running a race team."

"We’re trying things a little bit different this year with the way we’ve got Brian (Whitesell as team manager) and with Robbie as the crew chief. It’s taken a little bit of time, but I don’t think it would come together the way it has had it not been for Robbie and his attitude and the way he works the floor and the people at the race shop."

The admiration is mutual.

Loomis has found working for Rick Hendrick and with Jeff Gordon to be better than he imagined when he signed on.

"On the outside looking, always watching him drive and watching him race, he was the guy I always wanted in my corner," Loomis said.

"To be able to see him as a person, you look from the outside and say, ‘Can this guy be that nice? Can he be that good?’ Now to get to know him and be around him and (wife) Brooke, it’s really been a pleasure to see somebody who carries himself the way he does and know that’s really the Jeff Gordon you see."

Gordon almost certainly isn’t going to win 10 races this year like he did in 1996 and ’97 or 13 the way he did in 1998. After his victory and heading into the NAPA Auto Parts 500 this weekend in Fontana, Calif., Gordon is seventh in the standings, which is a worse position than he finished in any year but his rookie season.

But considering this is a rebuilding phase and this season of parity, with nine winners in nine races so far, Gordon figures it’s not a bad start.

"A lot of people compare everything to previous years, and I think they’ve been comparing our performance to previous years," Gordon said. "I think you’ve got to look at the overall picture of the whole sport and where it’s at and how people continue to get better and better. Any time you go through the changes that we’ve gone through, you may take a few steps back, but in order to take those giant leaps forward, I think sometimes you’ve got to do that.

"I think there’s sill some steps that need to be made. We’re coming together, but I don’t think we’re there 100%. We’re in the 90% range, but a lot of that has to do with learning about this new Monte Carlo and then a lot of it has to do with getting everybody to jell."

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