Different Strokes

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Their approach is as different as their personalities -- one intense and calculating, the other playful and gambling.

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Crew chief Steve Letarte (left) and Jeff Gordon have clicked. Gordon is second in the Chase point standings.  Special
Special
Crew chief Steve Letarte (left) and Jeff Gordon have clicked. Gordon is second in the Chase point standings.

At any other place at any other time, Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte probably wouldn't be the top-two crew chiefs in the Chase for the Championship.

Knaus is a gearhead who consumes himself in his work and little else. Letarte is a people person who enjoys every minute of the day.

They are opposites working under the same roof, toward the same goal. One is a neat freak who keeps his office door closed, the other loves hanging out at the water cooler to stay attuned to daily gossip.

Their boss, car owner Rick Hendrick, is smart enough to stand back and watch his geniuses at work. He doesn't care how they get to a championship, as long as they get there.

Five Nextel Cup championships have taught Hendrick that racing is about people, not cars. Rarely have two people been so different. And successful.

If Jeff Gordon had his way, Knaus never would have gotten the chance to be Jimmie Johnson's crew chief. Gordon thought Knaus was too stiff, too absorbed by the mechanics of a car to lead a new team six years ago. He admits Knaus' act wouldn't work with him.

Yet, Johnson is the defending series champion who's won three consecutive races to lead the playoff standings heading into Sunday's race at Phoenix.

"I was wrong on that one," Gordon said.

Gordon's team, along with Letarte, is second in the rankings, down by only 30 points.

Knaus and Letarte share the same shop and secrets at the racetrack. They may go about their business in a different manner, but they generally end up at the same place, at the same time. They've dominated the Nextel Cup Series this year, combining to win 15 of 34 races.

"I've said many times that Chad wouldn't work as my crew chief," Gordon said. "With my personality, I just don't know if it would work.

"Chad has surpassed everything that any of us expected. Chad is an intense, competitive guy. He's got arrogance about him, but it's an arrogance that works and fits. For whatever reason, his personality and Jimmie's personality, while they are opposite at times, they seem to get the results."

Johnson and Knaus have won 32 races in the past six years -- more than any other driver. Gordon is second with 23 wins.

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

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