Crew swap crucial to Johnson’s title hopes

After a wild Sunday at Texas, we had a bit of breaking news today as Hendrick Motorsports announced that the No. 48 team would swap pit crews with the No. 24 team for the remaining two races.

I would’ve been shocked — completely — had they not done the swap for the rest of the year.

I don’t think this is a panic move. I truly believe this wasn’t just about yesterday. Jerry Jones firing Wade Phillips wasn’t just about yesterday. This is about what has happened for most of the year.

One thing about Jimmie Johnson and the 48 car, if you look back at the last four years, we never talked about mistakes on pit road. We never talked about losing positions on pit stops. But that has been a huge topic with that group all year long. I promise you, if it was just yesterday, that would’ve never happened and this would’ve never happened. This has been going on all year, pretty consistently.

I think it makes a pretty big statement that this is a pretty huge team sport. It’s like Chad Knaus said in his interview yesterday, "We treat — especially the 24 and the 48 — as one team with two cars."

I totally support and commend Chad Knaus on his decision during the Texas Sprint Cup race, when he asked the No. 24 team to work on his car after Jeff Gordon’s accident. I hate it for the No. 48 crew because they’re good guys and most of them have led the team to four consecutive championships, but they’ve actually had issues all year long. The crew has not been disastrous, but they have had issues.

They have not been on their game for most of 2010.

Jimmie Johnson might not have had a car that could win Sunday’s race, but it was well documented that on four of his first six stops, his team lost him substantial ground. You can’t do that. You can’t do that and win races; you can’t do that and win championships. No one knows that better than Chad Knaus.

People may say, "Well, why don’t you just figure out what the weak link was and change out that guy or those guys?" It doesn’t work that way. A pit crew is almost like a symphony, like a band. It works together in sequence.

Obviously, the No. 24 crew has been solid this year and Knaus must have thought, "You know what? We gotta fish or cut bait here. We’re struggling on pit road and the two guys that are battling for this championship are having pretty good days, the 11 and 29. We better do something to rectify this or we could very well lose this championship because of pit-road issues."

If I was Chad Knaus or Rick Hendrick, I would have made the same call to swap this group for the rest of the year. They have one little bullet in the gun to win this championship and it’s the 48 team. What’s going to fix that 48 pit crew between Sunday and Phoenix? As much as you want to be a cheerleader, sometimes just patting people on the back won’t fix the problem. The group has some issues and who knows? Putting them on the 24 team may be the wake-up call to figure out what those issues are and what’s missing.

Sometimes those things help both situations. It gives the group you’re trying to help the most a shot at the championship. But by the same token, sometimes it helps fix the issues with the group that you moved away. I’m going to give you a similar example: Richard Childress, a couple weeks ago, felt like the best pit crew for Kevin Harvick and the 29 team was Clint Bowyer’s pit crew. They swapped them. What did the 29 crew do a week-and-a-half later? They gave Clint Bowyer good pit stops all day long to go to Victory Lane at Talladega.

This is what you do. You know what bullets you have left in the gun and you want to make that bullet as strong as possible.

Now, with that said, it probably, to some degree, has crew chief Mike Ford and the No. 11 team snickering under their breath because they are truly — they may go to hell in a hand basket in Phoenix — the only championship contending team that has the same pit crew they started the Chase with.

Here’s the thing about Phoenix: Jimmie Johnson could’ve recovered from having those early to mid-race bad pit stops at other races. But you know, Phoenix is one of the shortest race tracks that we have — 312 laps, 312 miles. He can get into some green-flag runs with some green-flag pit stops. But a mistake on pit road, whether it be speeding or a loose lugnut or just an overall bad stop, you may never recover from it.

They have no mulligans. They are now 1000 percent on offense. They are no longer on defense. And this is the first time they’ve been in that situation in a long, long time.

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