Jimmie Johnson Swaps Pit Crews with Jeff Gordon to Improve Championship Chances

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Jimmie Johnson Swaps Pit Crews with Jeff Gordon to Improve Championship Chances
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Jeff Gordon's pit crew pits for Jimmie Johnson during the AAA Texas 500

On Sunday, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team had one of their worst days as it saw the team fall apart.

In the first seven stops of the race, the no. 48 team lost stops on four of them. Valuable track position was lost and therefore putting Johnson in bad situations.

So once teammate Jeff Gordon was wrecked out of the race, Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick called the ultimate decision—they fired their pit crew, using Gordon’s for the rest of the race and now, the rest of the year.

The last two stops pulled by Gordon’s pit crew were both sub 12-second stops, allowing Johnson to keep his track position.

"It was just a long day," Johnson said after the event. "We just gave away so much track position at the beginning and it was tough to get back to where we needed to.”

"It's a professional sport, and you see it all the time," Knaus said after the Texas race, as according to NASCAR.com. "If somebody's out or somebody's not getting it done, say in football, you get a different receiver in the game or a different quarterback, or whatever it is.

“Unfortunately, our guys weren't hitting on all eight cylinders [Sunday], and we had an opportunity with the 24 crashing to bring those guys in. They did a good job. They came in and played relief, and I thought they did a good job [Sunday]. It's unfortunate. I don't like doing that stuff, nobody does. But it's kind of your job."

"I'm okay with it," front tire changer Mike Lingerfelt said. "We're all team players."

Though did Chad Knaus make the right call in bringing Gordon’s crew in?

Let’s take it to the streets...

“I would have tried it, what was the worst that could happen?” Kim Means Velez said. “The 24 pit crew didn't do any better or had sub-par stops? Their stops were a second and half faster than the 48 crew. That is a lot on time on the track. NASCAR is a team sport, just like football and if the starting quarterback is struggling, they put in the back up quarterback to see what he can do to help the team.

“RCR swapped the entire 29/33 pit crew during the chase, granted it was during a race but sometimes change is needed.

“If anything, I am hoping that it motivates the 48 boys to dig deep and figure out what it is that is missing this season from the previous seasons and why they are four time champs.”

“The crews should not have been swapped,” Cherie Andrews said. “You win and lose as a team.”

“If you’re trying to win a championship, and two of your teams are eligible, and one gets mathematically eliminated, then, as a smart team owner, or principal, you dissect, find your weak links and make a fix,” Matthew Vance added. “(The No.) 48 pit crew has been off all season long. (The No.) 24 pit crew has been stellar. It’s not a need for drama that a lot of others, including high media are making it out to be. It’s simple strategy.”

When it comes to the Sprint Cup Series level, you’ve got to be the best of the best to be able to contend and beat other teams who are striving for that level.

Also, it’s a move that the No. 29 team of Kevin Harvick pulled earlier in the Chase as they are using their teammate Clint Bowyer’s pit crew. Clint Bowyer said that he was all for the change as he was all for having at least one of the Richard Childress Racing teams win the championship.

Though even though there are a lot of positives with the change, some people have questioned—what about the moral of the guys?

‎"If you want to win you will do what it takes, what the 48 did was rude but it was a smart idea.” Luke Deakins quoted Smoke Tronix (owner of www.smoketronix.com).

“Congratulations to Chad Knaus on destroying the team moral,” Danny said. “Watch this team fall apart now and lose every nitch they had for awhile and in a sense, lose the championship. Events like this are what start the process of teams breaking apart and failing.”

“Unfortunately the easy negative is a possible feeling of betrayal for the 48 crew which could lead to even worse performances the next two weeks.” Deakins said.

“They have to be big boys, and understand the situation,” Vance said. “Look at the bigger picture, and realize they gotta get better. Use it to be a positive experience. Just practice, practice, practice.”

At first, it may look negative on the guys, however in the end, it may help the team. It’ll show them that they can be replaced and they got to get better as there are other guys out there can do it just as good as them and take over the deal.

However, was taking the whole team out a good move considering that most of the issues surrounded the front end of the car?

“Truthfully, the broken links in the chain are Mike Lingerfelt and one other guy—they are the only ones that should be taken off the team at all or sat aside due to them not living up to their potential and performing.” Danny pointed out via the discussion.

It'd be simple to take Lingerfelt and his partner off the team in the middle of the race as they were the main source of the problem. Through the multiple replays of the issues, they always seemed to be on the front end.

However, if you just take them off and put Jeff's front tire changer and carrier, you run into a possible "rhythm" problem. By changing the entire group for the time being, it gets rid of that possibility.

Then once their back at the shop, Knaus being the team leader he is, will probably explain why he did it and the reasoning behind.

Then you’ll see changes within the team made to be ready for next year. Chancing a change right now during the pivotal Chase could erase the chances for the No. 48 team completely.

Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

“Exactly—rhythm, these guys are all used to their certain jackmen and what not,” Vance commented. “If the ‘team morale’ is destroyed, then sorry pals, give me a break, this is the big time. A mistake here and there is tolerable, consistent inconsistency is unacceptable. They don’t deserve to be there. You gotta play the game.

“That’s why Chad is so good. If you can’t do the job, and do it right, and be one of the best, he'll find someone who is. I'm sure we have all worked for someone like that before. I know I have. It sucked at times, but it was also a great experience, because it pushed me to be the best at what I did. They'll grow, and they'll learn.”

Plus, it made sense to bring over the No. 24 team as the No. 24 and No. 48 teams work together in the same shop.

“As for the actual switch, this is the time we'll see how much of a Championship and professional team these guys are,” Pam Woodward Johnson said. “They all work together wearing both car numbers on their shirts every day in the shop and have for years claimed to be one team. So if 248 is one team then it shouldn't cause an issue; it should cause them all to step up and do what is best for the 248 shop and for HMS as a whole.”

Lastly in this debate, Amy Henderson brings up the point of why not a quicker change.

“My only question was why didn't they do that weeks ago,” Henderson said. “The pit crew has hurt Johnson week after week and likely cost him the championship with their poor performance during the Chase. They didn't get him this far, he carried them.”

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Could Mike Ford has promoted the change with his psychological games?

Could it be that Knaus is feeling the pressure from Denny Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford? Ford purposely picked the stall in front of Knaus to therefore play mind games and were those mind games working?

Ford stated on NASCAR Victory Lane that he saw them make the change and was well aware of it. He said that the No. 11 team consistently had good pit stops all day and saw the No. 48 team struggling. Did Knaus feel desperation as he watched his competitor?

Pam Johnson thinks the lack of change has to do with the team loyalty.

“I'd say one reason they haven’t made a change before is just that team loyalty everyone keeps bringing up,” Johnson said. “The front guys have both been with the team several years so would be some loyalty there to them. And the over the wall crew hasn't totally sucked all year; just been hit and miss. We don't know if there have been injuries, technical issues or something else going on.

“Plus while Chad is the ultimate decision maker for things pertaining to the crew there is a pit crew coach too and he sees them everyday, drills them and is there every race so he has to take some responsibility. I would think he has some answering to do also as to what the issues are and why they have continued.”

Another point to consider surrounding the entire pit crew swap is that the No. 29/33 swap didn’t generate a lot of publicity, yet everybody is discussing the No. 24/48 swap. What gives?

For one, the No. 29/33 swap happened in the middle of the week and was seen as an obvious to happen, considering Bowyer was last in points, sitting more than 300 points back.

Though, an even bigger point to consider is that this deals with the four-time defending champions. They are suppose to flawless and be the perfect team, poised for their fifth in a row. As soon as a flaw is seen, it’s going to blown out of proportion to therefore generate publicity for NASCAR and make it seem as if he is beatable, considering most generate that the sport’s ratings are down due to him.

Beyond the pit crew though, is the No. 48 team in trouble?

“Chad himself hasn't been on his game lately either,” Vance said. “When he said in his interview tonight that ‘making adjustments back there in the pack is so hard to do’, I knew right then there is some trouble. Making those adjustments is what Chad does!

“Now, I'm a big time 48 fan. They are still really good obviously, but they are not their usual. Basically Jimmie ate his wheaties, but did the team pack their lunches, I'm pretty sure Denny would love to ask that question.”

It would seem that way as in years past, the No. 48 would dominate the chase and have a good lead by now. However, in exchange this year, they’ve been running about average with the rest of the pack and therefore now find their title chances in jeopardy.

Also, the No. 48 team started slightly behind this year so are they still seeing the effects? Have they totally not caught up yet?

“This race more than any other showed that HMS, the 48 team and the 248 shop is behind this year,” Pam Johnson said. “Jeff wasn't running that great again; Jr. wasn't ever even on the radar; Jimmie's car was never as good as it could have/should have been even with his ninth place finish and the pit crew issues with our team just topped it off.”

Recall they didn’t start the Chase as the leaders as Harvick and Hamlin led the bunch in.

In the end, it’ll be interesting to see how these last two races play out and to see if the change in pit crews benefits the No. 48 team and brings the championship to the 248 shop.

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