The pit crews for Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are to be swapped for the remaining two races this season, Hendrick Motorsports announced today.
This follows a controversial decision taken by Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus , midway through Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. In four of the first seven pit stops Johnson had made that afternoon he had lost places as the regular crew made mistakes costing a precious second or so. When Gordon’s car was wrecked following a collision with Jeff Burton Knaus had no hesitation arranging for Gordon’s crew, who had been noticeably quicker during their stops and now found themselves with nothing to do, to take over pit crew duties for Johnson’s #48 car.
It was a move that has polarised opinion, some feeling it was wrong to publicly humiliate the regular guys and seriously risk irretrievably lowering team morale, whilst others, and certainly Knaus is one of them, feel if, say, the springs on the car weren’t performing to the necessary criteria it would be expected the team would remedy the situation and change them. By the same logic if the crew weren’t performing to the necessary standard the only option was to change them.
Had Gordon’s #24 car finished the race would they have swapped crews mid-race? The likely answer is no, they wouldn’t. So, would they have agreed to swap crews for the races at Phoenix and Homestead during this week? Of that we’ll now never know.
The truth is the swap came about because of a brilliant piece of opportunism on Knaus’ part. And the pit stops were most definitely quicker after the crew change. Johnson is still very much in with a chance of winning the championship, Gordon isn’t, so surely the best resources of the Hendrick team have to be used for the 48. The title chase is tight enough that it could easily be won or lost by those places Johnson was losing during his early stops so for Hendrick to do anything other than give the best chance of winning, the best equipment and the best team to the 48 team would be foolhardy, surely.
Steve Letarte, Gordon’s crew chief with the #24 Du Pont car, says he is in total agreement with the change. Gordon is free to race for wins but the ultimate goal has to be winning the championship for Hendrick and that means giving the best resources to the 48. As Letarte said, “We all race for [team owner] Mr. [Rick] Hendrick. We all want to win for him. While I would love to see the 24 win, and that’s our goal for the next two races, we don’t have a chance to win the championship. So we’re going to put whatever effort we can into whichever team still has a shot to win it. I think my personal response to that is that I feel I’ve had a part in the last four championships the 48 has won. So I guess we do win them as a company.”