What started as a quick in-race switch has become permanent, as Hendrick Motorsports has announced that the teams of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will switch pit crews for the remaining two races of the season. "The change is limited to the seven primary over-the-wall members of the respective pit crews," Hendrick Motorsports said in a statement. "Roles of additional team personnel will not be affected."
Obviously, this doesn't look good for the 48 team. Both Johnson and Chad Knaus have tried to paint this as the equivalent of a baseball team switching pitchers in the middle of a game, but that's not accurate. It's more like, say, Alabama bringing in LSU's offensive line midway through the national championship game in order to help the SEC win. And while it's not technically illegal, it furthers the perception of haves-vs.-have nots. If a smaller team wants a new crewman, it has to go grab the guy working the tow truck, not a highly trained crewman from another Chase-level team.
Still, the change was necessary. After getting a public humiliation in front of the entire NASCAR nation, how on earth was the 48 team going to perform at the highest level during the two most important races of the year? This allows everybody to step away, take a breath and decide just how badly they want to stick in this business.
Knaus and Gordon's crew chief Steve Letarte will address the media on Tuesday morning from HMS HQ. Wonder if they'll share a ride into the office.
Here's one question that needs asking: why this, why now? The 48 team hasn't had the finest pit crew of the 2010 season — that honor probably goes to Kyle Busch's or Matt Kenseth's guys — but they certainly haven't cost him great finishes the way that certain other teams have. Why such a drastic move at such a critical point in the season? And Gordon's crew isn't generally regarded as the gold standard, which is what you'd better be getting if you're making this switch this late in the season.
Earlier Monday, we suggested that the 48 team may be starting to sweat in this Chase, and today's news puts that in bold, underlined italics: the 48 team is starting to sweat.