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New Pit Crew Could be Crucial for Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, Crew Chief Chad Knaus
Chad Knaus, crew chief for five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, says there will be changes on his No. 48 team’s pit crew, but admits that with only a little more than two weeks remaining before cars are back on the track at Daytona, he still isn’t sure what those changes will be.
“I’m happy with what we have right now, for sure, at this time of the season,” Knaus said during this week’s Sprint Media Tour. “I don’t have a roster picked of the guys that will be starting but I’m real happy with where we are at.”
While there have been minor moves in recent years among those that service Johnson’s car on race day, the 2011 season could be the first in which wholesale changes take place.
Winning the title for the fifth time brought with it no guarantees for those who go over the wall. Tryouts to determine the best mix of the available talent are currently under way, meaning that it could be an entirely new crew that suits up in the familiar blue-and-white or a mixture of new and old.
But, Knaus admitted, “We’re making changes, definitely.”
The team’s pit crew became an issue late in the 2010 season when Knaus swapped out his over-the-wall team with that of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon during the Chase For The Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. With his pit crew’s performance lagging, and a championship hanging in the balance, Knaus replaced his group with those from Gordon’s team after Gordon fell out of the race.
It was an attempt to give Johnson the best possible chance at winning his fifth consecutive title (he trailed Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin by 33 points following the Texas race), and the No. 48 team completed the season with the “new” seven-member crew.
Not long after the switch, Knaus explained that the movement of personnel between Hendrick teams wasn’t unusual, simply more noticeable.
“We've had crew members from the 24 [of Gordon] pit the 48, we've had crew members and mechanics on the 48 pit the 24,” he said the following week. “It's always been like that and we're going to continue to work that way.
“We set it up at the beginning of the year that we were going to have five or six tire changers, we were going to have three or four jackmen for the 24 and the 48 and that was explained to the guys at the beginning of the year and everyone understands that and that's the way it is."
That will likely continue in 2011, with a mixture of race-day personnel available to Knaus and Steve Letarte, who will continue to work out of the same shop but will be calling the shots for Dale Earnhardt Jr. rather than Gordon.
According to team officials, there will be a “bench” of qualified backups at each race, the numbers of which may vary from race to race. And although the list of those who go over the wall could change from week to week, it’s also possible that the choice of crewmen could remain the same.