Notes: 48 Pit Crew Makeup Still a Mystery
Five-time defending Cup Series champion crew chief Chad Knaus went on TV last Monday to, among other things, reveal that his Hendrick Motorsports team had finalized its six-man over-the-wall pit crew -- as well as a backup man for each spot -- at least for the next two weekend's season-opening events.
Hendrick created some ripples throughout the sport last season mid-race at Texas, when the organization switched the over-the-wall crews for Jimmie Johnson's eventual championship team and Jeff Gordon's already-eliminated from the Chase (and the race) team.
Despite Knaus' proclamation, a team spokesperson this week said the makeup of Johnson's over-the-wall team was neither definite nor locked in. A team release said the roster would be available "race morning," or Saturday before that evening's non-points special event, the Budweiser Shootout.
The Shootout has a 50-lap segment that will dictate at least one pit stop, but it may be under green- or yellow-flag conditions.
"At the end of  we were in a position we didn't want to be in -- it certainly wasn't typical for the No. 48 team or Hendrick teams to swap crews around," Johnson said Thursday at Speedweeks' preseason Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. "We knew before that, that we needed to make some changes during the offseason and truthfully, every offseason we go through and try to make sure we have the best people on the roster.
"This year was different, we changed more positions. Now we're down to six guys over-the-wall [with the elimination of a catch-can person], so I would say five of the six guys over-the-wall this coming year are new to us.
"In our plan we didn't think we would change out so many guys but with the position we were in at the end of the year, we were like, 'We need to kick this thing into gear.' Yes, we may take some bumps early in the season but we'll just have to take that and get these guys in and get going."
Knaus indicated he had backups in place in the event of illness, injury or lack of performance, and Johnson concurred. Hendrick had a number of tryout sessions since the end of last season to determine its over-the-wall crew, including a fairly critical one at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"We've had a series of competitions and tests to see who is the fastest," Johnson said. "That's one aspect -- who can withstand the pressure. We had all four [Hendrick] cars at Charlotte doing live pit stops to see. We put a lot of pressure on them to see if somebody was better.
"I was there at that test with those guys last week and ... from that, what I saw [was] a very, very strong first- and second-string of guys. That's our plan, to make sure we have depth and if someone is hurt or having a bad day we can make changes and not lose anything on pit road."
Johnson included his pit crew among a number of variables his team will be dealing with as it kicks off its quest for a sixth consecutive championship, but he's certainly optimistic.
"We may have some bumps in the road early but I think you will see, it will be a much different look with our guys," Johnson said. "You're gonna see some real athletes. These guys are the real deal -- young, athletic, all have sports backgrounds and we feel that will help from a physical, quickness, hand-eye coordination standpoint and also from a pressure standpoint. They played important games in the past and they know how to deal with those pressures."
RPM cedes points to Wood Brothers
Wood Brothers Racing, which won one of the most famous Daytona 500s in history when David Pearson defeated Richard Petty in 1976, is locked into the field for this year's 53rd annual Great American Race.
Richard Petty Motorsports said this week that it "was free, by NASCAR rules, to transfer the points from the No. 19 car. We transferred them to the 21 team in the appropriate manner." Elliott Sadler drove RPM's No. 19 to 23rd place in the 2010 owners' points. RPM cut back from four teams to two this season, leaving the 19's owners' points available.
Thus, rookie driver Trevor Bayne, who has a single career Sprint Cup Series start -- this past fall at Texas for the Wood into the field for his first Daytona 500 in his first attempt.
Bayne, 19, who will turn 20 the day before the Daytona 500 and plans to compete full time for the 2011 Nationwide Series championship driving for Roush Fenway Racing -- but plans at least 17 races in the Woods' car -- said he appreciated the opportunity.
"That's a huge relief," Bayne said Thursday. "Those Duels [Daytona 500 qualifying races] can be stressful, because you've got to have help and as a rookie driver, you're probably not going to get a lot. So you've got to go find a buddy somewhere in the garage and suck up [laughing] so you can get a push to make it in the .
"So now, I can go out there and -- not just take it easy -- but be a lot less stressed about it, because I don't have to press the issue. I can be at a lot better pace learning these cars and learning how to draft and learning who I can work with."
With RPM's points, the Woods' car is a guaranteed starter for this season's first five races, which team owner Eddie Wood said the team planned to race.
"I think now, knowing that I'm in those first five races, I'm going to push to run the first six, or the first seven or eight," Bayne said, laughing. "Because hopefully we'll still be in the [top 35] after those first five races and if we're doing good in points hopefully somebody will see that and the Wood Brothers will be excited and we can keep moving forward.
"So I think it's going to be really big for us to be gaining [owners'] points in all five of these races."
More Bayne: No rookie title in 2011
Though he plans to run 17 Cup races, Bayne won't be eligible to compete for the Cup rookie of the year title, NASCAR officials told Sporting News.
Bayne, however, may be able to defer his eligibility for Cup rookie of the year to the first year he elects to compete for the championship in that series. NASCAR is considering a change to its rookie eligibility requirements that would dovetail with its new rule that requires drivers to choose one series, and one only, in which they compete for championship points.
Such a change would allow drivers to compete in more than seven Cup races in a given season and still maintain the eligibility for rookie of the year in the season they first opt to race for points in that series. Previously, any driver who competed in more than seven races in one season subsequently lost eligibility for the rookie title.
As late as Thursday morning, Bayne still had hopes of running for the Nationwide Series title and the Cup rookie of the year title, but NASCAR decided otherwise. Because Bayne has elected to run for the points championship in the Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway Racing, he won't be eligible for any of the annual Cup awards.
Gordon joins Dodge factory
For the first time in two years, Robby Gordon will have factory support for his Robby Gordon Motorsports Cup program. Gordon announced at Media Day a deal with Dodge Motorsports that he said was enabled by Penske Racing cutting back from three to two Cup programs in 2011 -- but he added the strength of Penske's engine program was a big selling point for him, as well.
"When I went to [Chrysler's] facility 65 to 70 days ago, I was thoroughly impressed -- one, with what they are producing for cars [and] second, what their facility is, compared to the other two in Detroit," Gordon said. "Whoever hasn't been to Dodge, it's a beautiful facility. They have all the tools to do what they need to do.
"I'm excited about the direction that they're headed with Dodge and there is multiple opportunities with Robby Gordon Motorsports."
Gordon said he was currently looking at least running half the season, but he was open to more. He's started the year competing full time in the SCORE off-road series with his own trucks.
"[My NASCAR schedule] is an interesting question," Gordon said. "It's just amazing how a good result at Daytona can change your season one way of another. Right now, I'm gonna say that we're good for 18 NASCAR events. There are other things that I want to do. It's not that I don't want to race, there's other events that I'd like to do."
Kahne wants his crew chief joining him at Hendrick
Kasey Kahne knows where he'll be in 2012 -- and he'd like to take crew chief Kenny Francis with him.
Kahne has a one-year deal with Red Bull Racing, as he waits for Mark Martin to complete his contract in the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports.
Francis, who moved with Kahne from Richard Petty Motorsports, also has a one-year deal with Red Bull, but beyond that his plans are uncertain.
There's no doubt, however, as to what Kahne would prefer.
"I think Kenny's been enjoying Red Bull so far, and that might be something that he wants to keep doing," Kahne told Sporting News on Thursday.. "I'd imagine they really enjoy having him. He's a great guy to have around no matter what. He's just a good guy to work with.
"I can tell you Hendrick would enjoy having him, too -- and I really want him. Every since we got with Kenny, he's the only guy I want to be with. We have a good relationship and good communication there, as far as trying to figure out these racec ars. They're tough to figure out, and I feel like we do a pretty good job of it at times."
Sporting News Wire Service contributed to this report.