Johnson’s Crew Will Face Internal Competition, Too
The word is out to pit crew members of Jimmie Johnson’s Sprint Cup team: Rest on your laurels and you’ll be resting on your butt.
Chad Knaus, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports crew chief, made that clear Friday at Daytona International Speedway.
Knaus said that crew members on his team who do not perform up to the level which has helped Johnson win five consecutive Cup championships will be replaced from a Hendrick pool of over-the-wall-gang talent.
Each crew member will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis if necessary.
“The way I see it,” Knaus said, “competition is healthy. If you’re sitting on an NFL team or an NBA team or a baseball team of whatever it is, there’s somebody that wants your job. That’s the way we want it here. It’s that way for the people that go on the road. It’s that way for the drivers and the crew chiefs and why shouldn’t it be that way for the pit crew guys? So, we want to have that because we feel like we’re going to get more out of those guys from a training perspective, from a focus perspective, and then a little bit less complacency out of it.
“So, we’re really excited about the way it’s coming about. It’s quite simple. If you don’t buy into it and you don’t like it, you don’t have to be a part of our team. That’s the way that it is. The guys that we’ve
got like it and embrace it and they’re enjoying it. I’ve seen more effort come out of our weight room and our training facility than I’ve seen in years and it’s really, really exciting to see.”
The NASCAR world got a glimpse of what happens when crew members underperform for Knaus on race day. In the Chase race at Texas, and with Johnson stumbling in his bid to win championship No. 5, Knaus some of his crew members with those of Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon’s team.
Knaus said this year, the talent pool for the No. 48 team of Johnson will be shared with the No. 88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Asked if there is a comparison between he is doing and what stick-and-ball teams do – set rosters each week – Knaus said, “Absolutely”.
“In another sense,” Knaus said, “I kind of hope that it does because that means that we’ve got guys that are pushing the other guys to the level that they’re better than they are on a weekly basis and improving themselves and improving their performance. If it gets to that, it’s there. And they all know that. They’re made aware of that. We’ve talked to all of them. We sat down with the starters last week and said look, you’ve got the opportunity to start for the No. 48 car this year, but don’t think just because you’ve got that is that it’s going to be any less challenging for the rest of the season.”
Knaus was also asked if he might have substitute crew members sitting in the back of the pits, suited up and ready to check in if needed – again, stick-and-ball style.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Our back-up guys will be at the race track filling other various roles so if
we do need somebody they’ll be there, whether they’re behind the wall catching a tire or running tires or maybe handing over the second can of fuel, whatever it may be, those guys will be at the race track on a regular basis in case we need them.”
The 48 team will have a couple of new crew members on its “starting” squad this season. It has some other returning starters who will be in different positions.
Knaus said that during the off season, tryouts were held, supervised by fellow Hendrick crew chief Steve Letarte. Knaus said the tryouts were exactly like the scouting combine which the NFL hosts every off season.
“You’d be shocked how many people showed up,” Knaus said. “We had an open combine and we had people from every team in NASCAR and just about every Nationwide team and Truck teams, and some people that were just athletes in general from other sports who wanted to come in and see what it was about. It was really excited to see the amount of interest that we got when we said hey, we’re going to have open tryouts. We had a lot of guys; veteran crew members from the Cup Series and Nationwide Series come in and they were just as humble as can be. They went through all the drills and did everything they could to try to prove their worth.”
What type drills?
“It was very extensive,” Knaus said. “Pit stops were a very, very small part of it. You’ve got to realize that attitudes and effort from the people out there is what makes the big difference. We can teach people to do pit stops. It’s how they handle the pressure and how they do things and how they have the athletic ability to sustain over the course of 39 events you know. It’s really difficult. So we had a lot of different things. We had emotional quotient tests, we had some physical aptitude tests, we did do some pit stops. And that’s how we made our decisions. Our decisions weren’t made just off of what they could do over the wall and changing tires on the car.”
Asked if he thought HMS was setting a trend with the move, Knaus said many team are already doing similar things.
“There is a lot of that goes on, it is just that this is the first time that it has gone to this level. It is nothing really new. It is growing everywhere. It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t have gyms at their facilities. Now they have gyms, they have trainers. They have pit crew practice facilities; all of that. So it is growing industry-wide,” Knaus said.
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