Monday’s announcement from Hendrick Motorsports that said their #24 and #48 teams were swapping pit crews for the final two races of the year really wasn’t that surprising. For Jimmie Johnson, and his Chad Knaus led #48 team, it’s bottom line time. It’s all about taking care of business in order to win the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship.
We all watched in amazement last Sunday as the events of the Texas race unfolded. One of the best pit crews in organized motorsports was faltering. Their pit road performance was chaotic and costing their driver valuable track position. This is not the first time that a tiny chink in the armor of the #48 team has been noticed. But in the past they’ve always managed to rally and overcome the adversity. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen at the Texas race. The pit road situation started off bad and only got worse.
When Jeff Gordon crashed out of the race, following that bizarre caution flag incident with Jeff Burton, a decision was made by Chad Knaus no one expected. He benched his guys and had Gordon’s #24 team, known as the “Rainbow Warriors” take over. The #24 crew has been formidable on pit road much of the racing season. They made quick work of coming to Johnson’s rescue last Sunday. According to the ESPN Network time clocks, their first pit stop for the #48 car was 12.9 seconds. The subsequent stop was timed at 12.3 seconds and their final stop, a two tire change, was performed in a stunning 5.9 seconds.
But, despite that stellar performance, the damage was done. Johnson’s team arrived in Texas with a slim 14 point advantage in the Chase standings. They left the Lone Star State second in the standings 33 points down. It marked the first time since the 2005 Chase when this team was not in the points lead with only two races left.
It was only two weeks ago that the pit crews for Richard Childress Racing drivers Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer made a temporary crew swap in order to help Harvick’s championship contender status. But this swap was carefully planned and orchestrated from the RCR office. On the opposite extreme was the crew sway arranged by Knaus that was extreme last minute and caught everyone, including the crew members and the driver, completely off guard. That’s likely why everyone seems to be having issues with the move.
Afterwards Johnson said he truly felt bad for his guys and noted that many of them has been with him during the team’s previous four championships. But he also pointed out that there were performance issues and compared it Major League Baseball saying “I just watched the World Series, and when a pitcher is not doing his job, they make a change and get someone in who can (get the job done).”
While this crew swap was surprising, and perhaps even a little unorthodox, it was all about the series business of winning the Sprint Cup championship. Knaus even indicated a willingness to take himself out of the equation if that’s what it takes to get the job done and said “if Steve Letarte, (Jeff Gordon’s crew chief), can call a better race, then I’m going to put him on my pit box. It’s about winning this championship. That’s all that matters.”
The bottom line here is indeed winning a fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. In short, all Chad Knaus did last Sunday was take care of business.