The replaceables: Mid-race crew swap demoralizing for #48 team, shows rare weakness in Hendrick camp
How would you feel? I’m guessing not so hot. And I watched with my jaw on the floor as I saw this happen live on television during the Texas race, when Jimmie Johnson’s fumbling crew got the heave-ho in favor of the wrecked #24 car’s crew.
It’s been done mid-week before, even recently with the #29 and #33 teams, but mid-race is something I can’t recall. And it was just one element of a crazy day at Texas that may have thrown the NASCAR world as we know it on a new course.
Johnson was blunt, saying the crew needed a wake-up call.
"We've been lacking and we need to get it straightened out and it was a good wake-up call for the guys, if anything, to bring the No. 24 crew in and let them do their job and let them watch. I really do care for these guys with the bottom of my heart. They're my guys. But, man, we have to perform. We can't come down pit road and lose 10 spots every stop. That's just killing us."
"I knew the possibility existed and at this point in the game, you can't have feelings. You have to go out and try to win the championship. And if somebody's feelings got hurt, that's too bad. We're here to win a championship and we've got to do everything we can."
Looking back at the race, the crew swap kind of presented itself due to another situation (the wreck and fight between the Jeffs), which led to the #24 crew being available. I’m going to venture a guess that if the #24 hadn’t been wrecked, this swap would’ve happened mid-week, which would have been a little less controversial.
But to get that tap on the shoulder with half a race to go has to be the worst feeling in the world. And to top it all off, they had to go pack up the equipment for the #24 team that was now doing their job. This team has led Jimmie Johnson to four straight titles, and now they’re basically mopping the floor.
If that’s not embarrassing, I don’t know what is … and no one in the Hendrick organization can say they’re happy with how Sunday turned out, despite solid performance from the #24 crew in its fill-in duty (which, by the way, will continue for the final two races; makes sense, I don’t see how you could go back after a switch this dramatic. Too many hurt feelings might screw up Jimmie’s chances.)
The Hendrick team, or course, has to put on their spin and promote the “one team” mantra and talk about how everyone at Hendrick works to help everyone else win the title, and how other sports see player.
"We have to do our jobs. We've been having some issues and today wasn't going any better and with the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) out of the race it was a good opportunity for us to try it,” Johnson said. “Man, you watch pro sports and if people aren't getting the job done you've got to pull them out and put someone else in."
But while that may be a logical defense of the move, you know a lot of those crew guys wanted to wring Chad Knaus’ neck when they heard the decision, even though they recognize they were making mistakes during the early pit stops.
What’s most important is that all this chaos happened on a day when Denny Hamlin put on a masterful run from the back to the front, putting on an awesome pass on Matt Kenseth late to win the race and take the points lead with gusto. If that’s not sending a statement to the four-time defending champ, I don’t know what is.
Hamlin and his crew chief are cocky and brash, saying things others might not dare.
Ford said in an interview after the race that the #48 team’s crew swap showed it was in “desperation mode” and that the #11 team is the team to beat for the title.
Meanwhile, Johnson has to hope this move, which some may call risky, pays off and doesn’t ruin his team’s chemistry.
"We'll find out. I have no clue. That's unchartered territory for us," he said.
And for the first time I can ever recall, Jimmie spoke like he recognized that the title might not go his way after all.
"Yeah, it's not where we want to be, but there's a lot of racing left. There are no guarantees what's going to happen. At some point the championship run will come to an end and I'm going to try my hardest to make sure it's not this year, but we'll come back next week and try again."
Between Denny’s strong run and the Hendrick turmoil, the momentum is clearly in the #11 team’s favor. Now all he has to do is withstand the pressure and deliver that title.
Watching him try, I predict, will provide the best Chase finish since the first go-around in 2004 … and it’s in part because the perfection at Hendrick Motorsports is now starting to look a little more human and not invincible.
Kyle flips out
While Jimmie was flopping crews, Kyle Busch was flipping out.
I’d like to know what was going through his head when he decided to give the middle finger to the NASCAR official in front of him, and I can only guess that it included a lot of four-letter words. When he extended that finger, he turned a speeding penalty into an extra two laps in the pits due to unsportsmanslike conduct, and he ended up down in the 30s as a result.
I’m surprised they even let him finish the race, to be honest. If a basketball player walked up to the ref and stuck out his middle finger, he wouldn’t play the whole 48 minutes, so Kyle is lucky his punishment wasn’t worse.
No one likes to be penalized, but this kind of outburst shows why Kyle is not usually a favorite to win the Cup title. He lacks the maturity of his competitors, and the results show that. He may be the best driving talent in the series, depending who you ask, but until his head’s in the right place don’t expect him to compete for any titles in the Cup series. Maybe his teammate can share a word with him about the focus needed to compete with the Jimmie Johnsons of the world.
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