After several bad pit stops during the Texas race led to Chad Knaus replacing his own pit crew with that of the 24, Hendrick Motorsports announced today that the switch is now permanent. The seven over-the-wall guys for the 24 will pit the 48 for Phoenix and Homestead, and vice versa.
Now, being a tire changer myself, I have to say that I feel for guys when they get the boot. In my own career I’ve not only had bad races, but I also know what it feels like to be replaced. And trust me, it really sucks. What we always have to remember though, is that at the end of the day, this is a business, and sometimes changes are warranted.
In the case of the 48, pit stops have often been a weakness this season. And with a championship on the line, these teams must pull out all the stops. It certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen an entire crew replaced (see Kevin Harvick), but it is definitely the first time we’ve seen one replaced mid-race. It also isn’t uncommon for teams to change one piece, say a changer or carrier, but again, it usually doesn’t happen mid-race.
Opportunities to score valuable points are running out, and in defense of Knaus and Johnson, they needed better than they were getting. The 24 bunch was available because of the wreck with Burton, so the swap was made. I do want to point out though, that if Gordon doesn’t get wrecked, this change probably never happens. It would be extremely disruptive to both teams to try and swap while the race was going on. And especially if Jeff Gordon was in contention for the win, there is no way Steve Letarte or Gordon sign off on such a change. That isn’t to say that it wouldn’t have happened on Monday anyway, but definitely not during the race.
Once the change was made, it was only a matter of time before HMS announced the swap was permanent. I’m not sure those seven guys could have come back to the 48 and been able to do the job after being replaced, and the powers that be at Hendrick seem to understand that.
While I do believe the 24 crew to be a bit stronger then the 48, let’s not get too down on that bunch. Gordon’s chances at winning a race are certainly not in jeopardy now because he has the 48 crew. Let’s remember that this is pretty much the same pit crew that Johnson was able to win championships with in both 2008 and 2009. They must be doing something right.
At the end of the day, NASCAR is a performance based business. If those of us who are in these positions come to a point where our performance just isn’t up to par, we can be sure that changes will be made. There is just too much at stake. I don’t know for certain what the future holds for the pit crews at Hendrick Motorsports, but don’t be surprised if we see some big changes and new faces for 2011.