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Ominous signs for the Johnson/Earnhardt crew split?

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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You recall last year, when Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus effectively fired his crew mid-race in Texas and brought aboard the crew from the No. 24 team? It seemed extreme, even heartless, at the time. But the numbers bore out Knaus' vision, both by season-finishing place (that would be "1") and absolute time during pit stops.

Now, though, the NASCAR Insiders point to a potentially problematic element of the whole revolving-door-crew business over at Hendrick. Knaus and fellow crew chief Steve Letarte are still swapping crew members, although Letarte is now captaining Dale Earnhardt Jr. And in media discussions last week, Knaus revealed that there will be a "bench" team of crew members for every spot in the lineup. The Insiders' "T.C." -- an anonymous tire changer for a major team -- has the following analysis:

What I see here, is two race teams with three pit crews. And you have Knaus saying he has yet to settle on a lineup (let me remind you that the Budweiser Shootout is [now 10] days away). With all the changes coming to the Cup Series this season in regards to the new fuel cans and procedures, these guys need all the time they can get to work through the difficulties of the new system. The fact that Knaus can’t point to six guys and say “yup, that’s my pit crew” should worry 48 fans.

TC further notes that there's a potential morale impact, knowing your job is only as good as your last pit stop. A little competition for your job is healthy; is cutthroat competition too much?

It's a valid point, but then so too is the fact that Knaus is a reigning five-time champion. If he says something, you'd be well advised to listen, and listen closely. Still, the field was closer than ever before to Johnson last year. Now wouldn't be the time for Knaus to be cruising on rep and press clippings.

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