Jeff Gordon doesn't care for the way his crew went over the wall to Dale Jarrett's team, but realizes that NASCAR racing is becoming an ever more volatile business.
The Rainbow Warriors, the crew that has helped Gordon to 49 career victories and three Winston Cup championships, will be working the pits next season for current points leader Jarrett.
Five of the seven men who make up the crew that for years was considered the best over-the-wall group in NASCAR, will be leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season for Robert Yates Racing.
"We were very disappointed and don't really agree with the way it all happened," Gordon said Thursday. "I thought that they would have had a little more respect for us and at least come to us so we could sit down and talk to them."
The defections are the latest blow in a difficult season for Gordon. Last month, crew chief Ray Evernham, who called the shots for the first 47 of Gordon's victories, left to become a car owner and the point man for the return of Dodge to Winston Cup in 2001.
Crew members Mike Trower, Kevin Gilman, Jeff Knight, Darren Jolly and Barry Muse are Sunday specialists, whose only job is to service the car during pit stops. They are scheduled to work the final three races for Gordon, beginning with the Checker-Dura Lube 500k on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
"The possibilities at Hendrick Motorsports are endless," said Gordon, now co-owner of his car. "However, the sport is growing and there's more likelihood for these kinds of things to happen."
Two crew members, Mike Belden and Chris Anderson, did not join the others in the move to Jarrett's Ford team.
Although the crew defection apparently took Gordon by surprise, it had been a possibility for some time.
"This opportunity was presented to us earlier this year, and after much thought between myself, (crew chief) Todd (Parrott) and Dale we elected to take advantage of it," Yates said Tuesday. "This sport has been driven to the point where every situation tends to get more specialized."
The crew has punctuated Gordon's unprecedented rise to the top of the sport with some of the fastest pit stops. They were the first crewmen to make frequent four-tire changes in less than 17 seconds, something becoming more common in the era of specialization in stock car racing.
None had any meaningful background in the sport, but were recruited by Evernham for their strength and agility. Under their uniforms, they wear T-shirts with the inscription: "Refuse to Lose," a motto that tlls the story of a driver who has risen into the top 10 in victories in only seven seasons on the circuit.
Now Gordon will have to rebuild.
"Hey, we've gone through some big changes this year, so change is not new to us," he said. "We've had a lot of good people come to us to fill those positions and it will be a challenge for us in the offseason to put it all together."
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