Digesting The 24/48 Pit Crew Swap

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.

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21 Responses to “Digesting The 24/48 Pit Crew Swap”

  1. HMAC80 says:

    What immediately came to my mind was that a family had been split up. Like you said, JJ’s crew have been champions for the last few years. Now, the only champions on the 48 are JJ and Chad (I think). I definitely think they should have stuck with their guys.

    Then again, with this new crew not having the championship experience, it might help even the field. Sure, they can have great stops, but nothing can replace championship experience.

  2. steve says:

    T.C.: any speculation on what happened to the 48 team, what caused them to start making mistakes? And I didn’t see this covered elsewhere, but so you know if it was a team-wide problem, with everybody making mistakes of some kind, or was it primarily problems with one or two guys?

  3. Keith_KaGee says:

    Time for roster limits like other “sports” have. That is IF NASCAR is really a sport. Rosters are set after a certain point in the season and minimal changes are allowed except for injury. No roster changes are allowed other than for injury once playoffs begin.

    Sorry that the 48 team sucked on Sunday. It happens. But imagine a professional stick and ball team allowed to go out and sign players from other squads after they had been eliminated from the playoffs. How is this any different?

  4. Craig says:

    This is just another insult to 24 fans. The last five or six years it always seems like Jeff and the 24 team have bent over backwards to help JJ and the 48, and the favor has never been returned. This just confirms what all Jeff Gordon fans think, the 48 team gets preference at Hendrick and Jeff gets the scraps. I bet Jimmy will still have no problem dumping the 24 if he needs to in the last two races, he did that well at Texas and ‘Dega in the spring. What next will Jeff be given team orders to headhunt the 11 and 29? Hendrick has reduced the 24 team to an over glorified test team for the 48. Be careful what you ask for Jimmy, that pit crew helped take Jeff out of the Martinsville and Charlotte races with bad stops.

  5. T.C. says:

    Steve: Sometimes you just have bad days. And for the 48, it just so happened that a couple of their guys happened to have bad days all on the same day. As for the problems themselves, they did have a tire get knocked away from their jackman by Paul Menard, and they had problems on the front on two separate occassions. But while these problems are probably the straw that broke the camel’s back, Sunday’s pit stops were not where this started.

    Keith: Why do we need roster limits? It isn’t like the 48 gained some sort of advantage over the field by swapping in the 24 guys. Anymore, most pit crew guys have contracts anyway, so swapping within the teams is about the only changes these guys can make. It isn’t like they signed a bunch of free agent guys off the street. I understand that a lot of people want to see the 48 lose the championship, but making some knee jerk rule because of a pit crew change is not the answer.

  6. Tim says:

    I would love love LOVE to see Gordon win one of the next two races, especially on a pit call. Just wishful thinking.

  7. chubdubblub says:

    TC – you just said it all..”Sometimes you just have bad days.” So you suck it up and go on to the next race – you don’t swap out the whole crew in the middle of the race.
    I’m sure that move did alot for team unity. Have we seen a chink in the armor of HMS and the #48 team? Why didn’t other HMS teams swap teams througout the season when they (5, 88) were struggling? Are they the wicked stepchildren?
    It doesn’t matter to me if the #48 wins number 5 or not.

  8. Neon says:

    I am a firm believer that a leader must be willing to go into the trenches w/ his soldiers (pit crew in this case). IMO if Hendrick is willing to swap the crews, Knaus should be willing to jump to the #24 w/ “his” guys.

    In countless interviews w/ the likes of Knaus, you here “this is a team sport”, “we are in this together”, yada, yada, yada. Playing the blame game may just hand the 11 or 29 the Cup.

    Me thinks the now #24 crew might just be the fastest of the two in Phoenix.

  9. Nas says:

    I’m sure Jeff is thrilled that they yanked his pit crew from him like he is some 2nd class citizen who doesn’t matter much…bet he’s loving it…..

    not a big Gordon fan, but I WILL BE WATCHIN AT PHOENIX and will definitely be pulling for the ENTIRE 24 TEAM this weekend!

    Nas

  10. macky jay says:

    If Jeff is leading at homestead and Jimmy is 2nd and needs 10 points to win the championship, does Jeffy pull over and let Jimmy win??? is that OK to do?

  11. Ric says:

    I read yesterday somewhere (sorry I couldn’t find it back) that they have been having problems with the #48 pit crew for a while. Nothing major, put their times were nothing to brag about. I remember the past several years that JJ would regularly come out the same if not improve a position or two. This year it seems like I saw them lose a position or two more then come out the same.

    Before the Texas race JG was 207 points out with 3 races to go. A slip up / wreck by the top three and JG is right up there. After the Texas race JG is 331 points out, mathematically eliminated. If JG was mathematically eliminated before Texas race, the swap would have been made before the race. With JG out of the race, and the 48 pit crew having a really bad day, it was done during the race.

    I don’t know for a fact, maybe TC can chime in, but I be willing to bet this swap has been talked about before ½ way thru the Texas race. Something like this was probably brought up in a meeting months ago as a what if, along with a couple hundred other what if’s… I’ll also bet that Jeff G, Steve L, and a slew of other people signed off on this. It was not like CK just got a wild hair up his ….. and decided to steal the 24 pit crew.

    I have a feeling that the old 48 pit crew will be turning out some really good times the next couple of races. Many times you see a star playing benched for a game or two for not playing up to potential, then comeback and have fantastic games.

  12. Steve says:

    Ric,

    All the more reason for Knaus to stick with his guys. You can bet those guys that are moving over to the 24 will have some extra motivation to help Jeff Gordon win the next 2 races.

    Gotta question: The last 4 years that Jimmie has won the championship and all the money that goes with it, since they are a “team”, does everyone in the organization get a piece of the winning pie or is it just kept with the 48 team and Hendrick? And if Jimmie wins this year, does the 24 crew get a piece of the pie as well since they helped the 48 win? If the answer is no to both questions, what incentive does the 24 crew have in helping the 48 win the championship?

    I didn’t think the swap was right in the middle of the race. If they want to switch crews mid week, all the power to you, but you should be required to stick with the team that services your car for the entire race once the race has started.

    You wonder if Jeff Gordon’s boiling point on Sunday had more to do with him playing 2nd fiddle to JJ than it did about the wreck. I don’t honestly think that he beleives Burton purposely punted him under caution. Burton is one of the cleanest drivers out there. If it was Edwards or Kyle, I could understand but not Burton.

  13. MS says:

    The problem with this move and it’s explanations is that none of it passes even the simplest of smell tests:

    “How many places did bad pits cost the 48 and how many places did bad setup cost the 48?”

    When we are more objective about things we see that Chad should fire himself since he was the bigger problem Sunday.

    Don’t get me wrong, clearly the pits were problematic, but the issue is if you fire the crew for substandard performance, citing lost track position, but you don’t fire the chief for substandard performance, despite the fact that bad setup was even more costly than the bad pits, all you do is destroy morale, confidence and loyalty across all teams within the ownership. Plus you look like a total self absorbed jackass. Good luck fixing it with 2 to go…

  14. Neon says:

    Hmmmm….Just to piggy-back on Steve’s #12 comment regarding money, if JJ does pull out the Cup w/ the former #24 crew, which crew goes to the LV prom night?

  15. Ric says:

    Steve,

    At Hendrick’s the #24 and #48 people work as one. They do not have separate people working on one car. You might be working on a #24 car one minute the #48 car the next.

    So I would venture to say that the people back at the shop (on the #24 & #48) would share the same. I would also think that everyone back at the shop would get some kind of bonus. That engine builder’s work helped get the car there just as much at the tire changer. Are all bonuses the same, that might be a different story. The over the wall guys are probably under contract with HMS, not #24 or #48. So they pretty much go / do what they are told.

    I’ll admit my jaw bounced off the floor when I saw the change mid race. Since then I’ve thought about it a little more. I don’t think it was the greatest time to make the change, but I think CK had his back against the wall, saw an opening and took it. The #48 was
    losing ground every time they left the pits. JJ would fight his way back up, come in to pit and leave further back in the field again. It has to be frustrating for a driver to fight back past the same drivers you just beat, again and again because the pit crew is not getting the job done.

    Didn’t JG and JB tangle about 4-5 races ago, one knocked the other out of the race??!!

  16. Ric says:

    Neon,

    Was wondering the same thing. I would say they would recognize the people that was with the #48 the most thru the season. I say it that way since there might have been other people that were replaced thru the season for one reason or another.

    Maybe we should wish for JJ to win 5 in a row just so we can find out all these answers!!

  17. rw says:

    As a 24 fan this is pretty much rock bottom…..jimmy n chad dont want gordon to win anything. Hell, last time they were at texas johnson was tryin to wreck the 24 ,now hes got his FRICKIN pit crew. at martinsville a couple a years ago when the 48 bumped the 24 around to win, after he gave him his setup. hes not just a teammate gordon hand picked him went out and got lowes to sponcer the car and probably showed him every thing he knows…..RICK HENDRICK you can kiss my…….

  18. JT says:

    I missed this race due to work. And what a miss! So much action and drama!

    As for the crew swap, that is tantamount to firing the 48′s over-the-wall crew. Therefore, JJ is toast for this year.

  19. abovetheshop says:

    I understand the business end of this and also know that things in this sport are NOT fair. People who work in NASCAR are always…”what have you done for me today???” It’s sad to me to see this..most of those guys have played key roles in their domination the last few years and at the first sign of struggle, Chad pulls them. I do have a few…”huh, I wonders??”

    Chad is, himself, a member of that crew and it’s his job to keep those guys ready and together, right? Why was he not replaced???? Just saying…

    Also, Jimmie is not without numerous errors this year. I’ve seen him speed on pit road, slid through his box & spin out while running top-10. Should Chad ask for him to get out of the car during the race???? Huh…

    Point..for the sake of loyalty (which there is none) and professionalism, maybe the HMS could have waited till this week to embarrass those guys.

  20. Mandy says:

    Ric in post #15 got it right. The guys at the 2-4-8 shop as they call it because they all work together during the week. Both Steve and Chad hire the guys, the same goes with the pit crew. They’re told at the start of the seaosn that they can be a crew member of the 24 or a 48, just depends. All the guys in that shop get to go the banquet, get championship rings regardless of if the 24 or the 48 wins the championship that year. Everybody gets the same about of bonus money on whatever HMS team wins, no matter who’s pit crew or car you work on, you all get the same bonus money on the wins or championships.

    Mike Lingerfelt, the front tire changer on the 48 was with that specific pit crew for a few years, then got moved to the 24 for a season, then back to the 48. They all train together and work together.

    As it was pointed out, Sunday was NOT the first time they were off. Its been like that most of the season, Texas was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. And no…the change wouldn’t have happened if Jeff Gordon didn’t wreck or even if he was still in contention to get the championship. The change would come in the off season. Which by the way, there have been change to that crew a few times after they have won a championship. They aren’t afraid of change with that team because it can be good.

    The over the wall guys work as one and go off of each other, so therefore instead of just switching one or two guys and in the process learn how that one crew works together, it was just easier and made more sense to switch all the over wall crew so they don’t have to learn something. Both Letarte and knaus said that on tuesday and it makes sense. That’s why you saw the 33 and 29 swap the whole pit crew.

    Chad doesn’t pit the car, he’s not over the wall, nor are the guys up on the box, so they stay. Chad even said, if he can’t do his job and Steve could do it better, he would put him up there if that’s what needed to be done. Chad’s pretty blunt about things I have noticed.

    Us 48 fans were wondering how long this was going to lost with the bad pit stops and all. Some where asking that back in the summer, I just started asking that last month. It became more and more recent with the mistakes. You cannot have that. Usually they would recover and have good stops……not so much lately.

  21. Big Larr says:

    Look back at this season, the 48 has had slow pitstops most of the year. Chads only failure is not doing something about it 20 races ago

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