Crew chief Chad Johnston has asked for his release from Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the 2013 season. The news of his departure comes after a tumultuous month that included the No. 56 team’s ejection from the Chase for the Sprint Cup and NAPA’s subsequent termination of sponsorship.
By Lee Spencer FoxSports
Crew chief Chad Johnston has asked for his release from Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the 2013 season.
The news of his departure comes after a tumultuous month that included the No. 56 team’s ejection from the Chase for the Sprint Cup and NAPA’s subsequent termination of sponsorship.
Johnston remains committed to driver Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 team and intends to battle for wins in the next seven races. But with two children and another on the way, the 33-year-old engineer turned crew chief must consider his options.
“Everything is uncertain,” Johnston told FOX Sports on Saturday at Kansas Speedway. “Obviously, we’re kind of in limbo right now, so everyone is minding their P’s and Q’s right now and getting something lined up for next year.
“At the end of the day, we have to support our families and it’s a livelihood for us. It’s a well-known fact that we need to be looking. I just want to do it the right way.”
Last weekend at Dover International Speedway, MWR majority team owner Rob Kauffman said he was “working on a plan” and added it was premature to comment on whether the organization would feature two or three teams in 2014 or on the status of the No. 56’s employees.
Though Johnston hasn’t received any concrete offers, in a perfect world he would prefer to remain with Truex and his current crew. Since coming on board as the engineer under Pat Tryson in 2010, the Indiana State graduate believes he has built a solid foundation for a perennial Chase-contending team.
“We take pride in what we do here,” Johnston said. “We all want to be successful. I told Martin a long time ago that if I was going to be mediocre at this, that I would go do something else rather than be gone from my family every weekend – I’d go sell lumber or shoes somewhere. We don’t do this to be mediocre.
“These guys put a lot of heart in it. They sacrifice a lot to do it. They don’t deserve to be mediocre. I have high expectations of myself, and expect a lot and expect to be competitive – if not then something needs to change.”
When Johnston inherited the team toward the end of the 2010 season, Truex was 22nd in points. Johnston has since led the No. 56 into the playoffs for the first time in 2012, ended Truex’s losing streak of 218 races and nearly duplicated the Chase run this season – until the organization was busted after Richmond for actions detrimental to the sport in what was deemed manipulating the outcome of the event.
After the crew’s 50-point penalty from Richmond, Truex fell to 17th in the standings. He has gained one position after his top-10 finish at New Hampshire two races ago.
“We’ve definitely been more consistent,” Johnston said. “We’ve been in contention to win races and lead laps. We made the Chase last year – then obviously what happened this year, we’ve been in contention both years. We’ve strung together top fives and top 10s, which we hadn’t been able to do that in the past. So we got NAPA back into victory lane in Sonoma, which was good.
“When I first came over, 15th to 20th was a good day for us. Now, if we’re not in the top five, we’re kind of disappointed. Since we’re consistently been running better, the expectations in the group got higher as well.”
The Cayuga, Ind., native’s career started in aerospace engineering, but his love of racing carried him to NASCAR and the truck series in 2004. By 2005, Johnston had moved on to Evernham Motorsports, where he remained until the company was sold. In 2009, Johnston joined MWR, where he’s been since.
“We’ve got such a great group of guys here,” Johnston said. “It would be awesome to keep everyone together. I haven’t worked a lot of places, but this is by far the best group I have in terms of talent and how everyone gets along and everyone’s approach. We have a lot of fun when it’s time to have fun, but when it’s time to get down to business it’s all business.”