CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Robbie Loomis stepped down as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief Wednesday, four days after the team failed to make NASCAR’s Chase for the championship.

Loomis will finish the season as consultant for Hendrick Motorsports while Jimmie Johnson races for the Nextel Cup title. He will join Petty Enterprises next season as vice president of race operations, where he will run the day-to-day operations for Jeff Green and Kyle Petty’s teams.

Steve Letarte, who has been with Gordon’s team for three of his NASCAR titles, will take over for Loomis as crew chief.

“I’m sad to see Robbie leave,” said Gordon. “We made a great team and had more wins ahead of us, but the Pettys presented him with a fantastic opportunity. For him, it was time for a change and I’m happy he’s found the right fit.”

Loomis joined Gordon’s team in 2000, and the duo won Gordon’s fourth Cup title the next season. Although Gordon has won three races this season, he hit a slump this summer and failed to qualify for NASCAR’s 10-race title hunt.

By missing out, Gordon is assured his worst points finish since his rookie season, when he was 14th.

Letarte will call his first race Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway. He has worked under crew chiefs Ray Evernham, Brian Whitesell and Loomis in roles ranging from tire specialist, mechanic and car chief.

“I’ve worked with Steve for more than 10 years and we already communicate extremely well, both on and off the track,” Gordon said. “The team has a ton of confidence in his abilities, so we’re looking forward to the last 10 races of 2005 and getting an early jump on next year.”

The Gordon-Loomis split has been in the works for some time, with both sides indicating recently it was coming.

It’s a natural move for Loomis to head back to Petty Enterprises, where he spent 11 seasons before joining Gordon’s team.

“Robbie has been a part of our family for a long time, and we’re happy to have him come home,” Petty said.

Loomis has been eager to step back from the day-to-day grind of being a crew chief. It’s part of a reorganization of priorities he’s taken since his mother battled a life-threatening illness last year, and after a Hendrick plane crashed last October, killing 10 people.

His new job at Petty will not be as demanding as a crew chief’s role.

“Hendrick Motorsports opened my eyes to a whole different level of this industry. The experience has allowed me to see things from a new perspective and learn important lessons about business and life,” he said.

“I was with the Petty family for 11 years before being blessed to work with Jeff and the No. 24 team.

“Kyle and Richard are giving me an incredible opportunity to come home, back where I started my career, and I’m honored and excited to do that.”

AP-ES-09-14-05 1732EDT

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