BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) -- What's wrong with Jeff Gordon?
The question trails the three-time Winston Cup champion at every stop, an annoying reminder of his revamped team's surprising winless streak that has hit 11 races.
''No one's satisfied at where we are, but we don't look at it like 'Will we win again?''' Gordon said. ''We see our team getting better, improving from week to week and we know we'll be able to get back to where we want to be.''
Things haven't looked the same since Ray Evernham, Gordon's longtime mentor and Hendrick team crew chief, left last fall to head Dodge's return to NASCAR.
Then in the offseason, five of the seven crewmen who made the Rainbow Warriors the best over-the-wall gang in the business bolted for Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett's camp.
And Brian Whitesell, the crew chief for consecutive victories in September after Evernham's resignation, shifted to team manager with Robbie Loomis taking over as crew chief.
By Gordon's standards, this season's results have been dismal. His best finish? Consecutive eighths the past two weeks in Darlington, S.C., and Bristol, Tenn., where he has nine combined victories.
When Gordon put the No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole for the Mall.com 400 in Darlington, he said it was ''the first time anybody's wanted to talk to me about anything good.''
So what's the problem? Is it Loomis? Different crew members? Or is it simply a slump?
As competitive as NASCAR is, he said, you can't change crew chiefs ''and expect to go out there and just win races.''
So far, he hasn't.
An oil leak early in the Daytona 500 dropped him four laps down and he finished 34th. A week later in Rockingham, N.C., he lost two laps early and finished 10th. In Las Vegas, he lost a lap when he made a long pit stop for an adjustment.
Two weeks ago in Darlington, he led the most laps, and his crew got him out the fastest of the leaders during a pit stop. But Gordon clipped a tire in Steve Park's pits, needed three more stops to fix things and fell from first to 17th.
''The car was awesome,'' Gordon said. ''It was just my fault for running into it.''
Those things never seemed to happen with Evernham calling the shots.
The critical relationship between driver and crew chief develops with time and can't be taken lightly, said Larry McReynolds, one of the sport's most respected crew chiefs who works with Mike Skinner.
McReynolds is the godfather of the late Davey Allison's children and was best friends with the racer.
''It got so we didn't have to talk with each other, we could just look and know what the other wanted,'' McReynolds said.
Skinner and McReynolds try to spend time together away from the track. ''The bond is there,'' Skinner said, ''and that helps us when we race.''
Bill Davis, the car owner who put Gordon into a Busch Grand National car in the early 1990s, said people who focus on the machines are on the wrong track.
''It's bringing in the right people and keeping open the communication,'' Davis said. ''That's what's most important.''
Loomis, Gordon said, has come under incredible pressure to produce Evernham-like results. But everyone in the Hendrick shop and the No. 24 crew has to establish relationships and duties.
''Sometimes, I'm not sure if I should step in where I used to before,'' Gordon said.
Gordon believes his relationship with Loomis is growing. The Darlington pole and Bristol performance show how close they are.
Loomis and Gordon joked about the changes after their qualifying run in Bristol.
''He said he was waiting on me to get my act together,'' the crew chief said. ''I told him I was waiting on him.''
No one's ready to panic.
''He's got his act together,'' Loomis said. ''He knows what it takes to win races and championships. Now, we've just got to get our team up to his level.''
On the Net: Jeff Gordon site: http://www.jeffgordon.com
NASCAR site: http://www.nascar.com
End Adv for Thursday, March 30
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