DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – If you're a member of Jimmie Johnson's pit crew, your job security is negligible.
Effective immediately, the 48 team's over-the-wall pit crew will be comprised of "starters" and "second-stringers," per the selection of a recent open tryout. Those who perform well will continue to be a part of Johnson's starting lineup; those who don't, won't.
"We've got the ability now and the depth that we feel like if we do need to make some changes – if we need to change some of the guys with players between the teams or some of our second-string guys – we can," explained crew chief Chad Knaus. "We're hoping that we're starting with who we think our starters are going to be for the first part of the season."
Starters? Second-stringers? This is routine stuff in stick-and-ball sports, but virtually unheard of in the world of NASCAR.
Much of the focus will be put on Knaus' supposed reasoning. "Competition is healthy," he explained. But really the move highlights how important pit road has become in the Sprint Cup Series. Under NASCAR's strict regulations, the cars are so similar that nowadays passing on the track is extremely difficult, so much so that pit road has become the place where teams look to gain track position.
Knaus recognizes this and is reacting accordingly. By sending a message to crew members that they can be replaced, he's essentially telling them to get in the gym, get in shape, practice, get better and then stay better. By maintaining a second-string, he's insuring himself against potential injuries. He's also affording himself the luxury of swapping in and out individual crew members who are well suited for some tracks, but not for others.
Knaus wouldn't rule out making changes on a week-by-week basis. And while he doesn't expect the 48 crew will be the fastest in next Sunday's Daytona 500 – the current roster has only been together for a few weeks – he does expect them to be prepared to handle the pressure of a title race come September, something he didn't feel he had last year when he swapped out his entire crew late in the 2010 Chase.
"I've seen more effort come out of our weight room and our training facility than I've seen in years," said Knaus. "If you're sitting in an NFL team, an NBA team, a baseball team, whatever it is, there's somebody that wants your job, and that's the way we want it here."