CHARLOTTE - As Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet continued to misbehave early in last week's Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, crew chief Steve Letarte had a job to do.
In addition to figuring out how what adjustments to make to the car, he also had to manage the emotions of his driver.
"I'm telling you, I didn't think any communication skills in the world were going to fix that thing," said Gordon, who admitted to acting like a "bear" on the radio with Letarte. "I thought we were going to have to come down and change four spring shocks and sway bars.
"I definitely give Steve a lot of credit for not panicking."
Gordon, after Letarte figured out what needed tending to, finished second.
As the Chase for the Sprint Cup hits the meat of its schedule - heading to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., for today's Pepsi 500 - the bond between a team's two most important components becomes all the more critical.
"Whether it's a new group just getting together or a group that's been together for a long time, it just gets back to the relationship you have with the crew chief in handling heat-of-the-moment battles," said Kurt Busch.
Some of those relationships are in a state of flux around the Cup garage. Busch's crew chief, Pat Tryson, has helped the No. 2 Dodge team to fifth in the Chase standings, but he has announced he is leaving the team at the end of the season for Michael Waltrip Racing.
And who knows what has happening with driver Greg Biffle and his crew chief Greg Erwin, after Biffle overruled Rogers on a crucial tires decision late in the race at Kansas? That choice of four tires instead of two likely cost Biffle the race.
Darian Grubb, who is in his first season as Tony Stewart's crew chief, said he overheard Erwin and Biffle going back and forth about the decision on the radio.
Grubb and Stewart were of the same mind and elected to change two. It was a race-winning decision and an example of the kind of synergy between them that helped them to the top of the standings for much of the season.
Stewart hired Grubb last winter as he prepared for his first season as an owner-driver with Stewart-Haas Motorsports.
"When we started this thing in the spring, I mean, this were times when I was sitting in the car, and I told him what my balance was, and he told me what we were going to change, and I was like, wow, is that the right way to go?" said Stewart, who won two titles with Joe Gibbs Motorsports and crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "I told him that, too. It's just learning each other.
"There were times the first couple races where I didn't necessarily understand why we were doing something. But when you go out there and it responds positively to those changes, you gain that confidence right away. And I do. I have the same confidence in Darian that I had in Zippy for 10 years."
It does not appear that Busch and Tryson are at full strength as they try to win a second championship for Busch. Tryson is only in the team's Penske Motorsports headquarters one day a week - Tuesday, when he meets with Busch and the organization's department heads. He does not see Busch again until they unload the car from the hauler at the race track.
But Busch said the arrangement is working out all right.
"A guy like Pat, he's definitely very animated," said Busch on a conference call this week. "He has a strong sense of what needs to happen and what the driver is going through out on the racetrack."