Caught beneath all the hustle and bustle of last week’s Sprint Media Tour was a very interesting bit about Hendrick Motorsports and their pit crew situation for 2011 (see articles here and here). Specifically, that Chad Knaus and his shop mate Steve Letarte had yet to really solidify their starting pit crew lineups for the season. In an attempt to build depth for their over-the-wall crews, no doubt in response to last season’s debacle at Texas, Knaus and Letarte have put together the equivalent of three full crews. Supposedly this will allow them to have capable guys available at the track in the event of injuries or performance issues. Does this sound like trouble to anyone else?
Having backup pit crew guys is not a new phenomenon. I actually wrote about it early last year (see post here). There is too much at stake during these races to not have some sort of a contingency plan. But it appears to me that Knaus and Letarte may have taken this too far.
What I see here, is two race teams with three pit crews. And you have Knaus saying he has yet to settle on a lineup (let me remind you that the Budweiser Shootout is 11 days away). With all the changes coming to the Cup Series this season in regards to the new fuel cans and procedures, these guys need all the time they can get to work through the difficulties of the new system. The fact that Knaus can’t point to six guys and say “yup, that’s my pit crew” should worry 48 fans.
I also question whether having a third pit crew looking over your shoulder at all times is really good for morale. I’m all for competition and having to earn your spot, but having another starting lineup hanging around will screw with your head. Doing what we do can be a big head game as it is, without adding the extra pressure.
It’s also important to note that the really good pit crews are those that have had continuity, and have had ample time to work together and get to know each other. I don’t know how you build any of that when you are constantly plugging in guys and facing the possibility of a different six every week.
I realize that I probably shouldn’t question the guy who’s been the man in charge of the team that’s won the last five straight championships. Don’t get me wrong, I think Knaus is a really smart guy. You don’t get to where he is unless you know a thing or two about people and race cars. I just wonder if maybe he has over thought this situation because of his team’s issues last season.
Only time will tell if Knaus’ plan will pay dividends, but on initial inspection, I’m not sold.