By admin | November 8, 2010
By Richard Allen
Never mind the scuffle between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton on the backstretch of the Texas Motor Speedway this past Sunday, the moment of the race occurred just after that. I was amused and entertained at the sight of two of the sport’s most recognizable names engaged in an altercation after they had just crashed. However, I was stunned at the sight of Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew being benched and replaced in the middle of a race.
Sure, there have been individual members of pit crews replaced mid-race before. And just weeks ago Clint Bowyer’s crew was exchanged with that of Kevin Harvick, but that was mid-week rather than mid-race.
Was this an act of desperation by a team not normally used to being challenged so late in the season?
Johnson has won the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup titles, but some of those championship runs have essentially been decided by now. For example, last year in this same Texas race Johnson crashed early in the event but had such a big points advantage that he still held the lead at the end of the day.
My belief was that as the three remaining teams still vying for the title got into the stretch run it would be either Harvick’s or Denny Hamlin’s crew that would succumb to the pressure. Instead, it looked like the Chad Knaus led #48 bunch was the first to show signs of weakness.
The pit stops for Johnson had been sub-par throughout much of the AAA Texas 500 and when Gordon crashed out of the event, Knaus made the call to replace his crew with that of their fellow Hendrick Motorsports team.
“Ultimately, it’s my decision, obviously,” an unapologetic Knaus said after the race. “We needed to do something. This is a team; the 24/48 shop has always operated as a team and that’s the way we see it.”
Those two cars are prepared in the same building on the HMS property and workers do service both cars throughout the week without regard to weekend team affiliation.
“It’s sad that we had to do it,” Knaus said. “But in the interest of Hendrick Motorsports and what we gotta do, sometimes you have to do that stuff. It’s not uncommon, we’ve seen it before. We’ll get home, try to get it fixed up and get our boys back.”
While all of what Knaus said sounds good, there is no way this will not have an impact on the psychological makeup of those who were cast aside mid-race. And, there is little way to see what happened as anything other than an act of desperation.
Changing crews mid-race sounds like something a team who has lost four consecutive championships would do in an attempt to ‘change their luck’ rather than something a team and crew chief who have fought the fight and won so many times would do.
There are several scenarios that could play out over the final two races of the season for the 48 team. They could go ahead and make the mid-race switch a permanent one, which Jeff Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte probably would not care for. The old 48 guys can come back, ‘man up’ and take their game to a higher level. Or, the old 48 guys can come back, sulk and finish third in the standings. It will be really interesting to see which happens.
But, if nothing else, one thing was proven on Sunday. The 48 team is indeed human after all. How will those humans react to this somewhat unfamiliar role of having a little controversy on their team?
*It was announced after the writing of this piece that the 24 and 48 teams will switch crews for the remaining two races.
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