NASCAR's Hendrick team leaves pit-crew swap in place for Jimmie Johnson
Hendrick Motorsports' startling mid-race decision to swap Jimmie Johnson's pit crew with Jeff Gordon's will be left in place for the final two races of the season.
Hendrick said Monday that Johnson, seeking an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship but now 33 points behind Sunday's winner and point leader Denny Hamlin, will use Gordon's crew at Phoenix Internationational Raceway on Sunday and at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida the following week.
Johnson finished ninth Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway after his regular pit crew struggled with tire changes early in the Sprint Cup Series race. After Gordon's car later was knocked out of the race in a crash, Johnson's crew was benched in favor of Gordon's crew.
Multi-car teams previously have swapped pit crews in between races -- last month, for instance, Richard Childress Racing gave Clint Bowyer's crew to teammate Kevin Harvick -- but the Hendick switch in the middle of a race was highly unusual. Harvick is third in the Chase for the Cup title playoff, 59 points behind Hamlin.
Some NASCAR watchers wondered what effect the Texas switch would have on the morale of Johnson's crew at the Phoenix race, but Hendrick's decision to leave the change in place appears to circumvent that potential problem.
Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, defended the move after the race, noting that in-game substitutions are common in many other sports. "We needed to do something" to keep Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet in contention for the title, Knaus said.
Johnson agreed. "You watch pro sports and if people aren't getting the job done you've got to pull them out and put someone else in," the El Cajon native said. "I really do care for these guys with the bottom of my heart. They're my guys. But, man, we have to perform."
Photo: Jeff Gordon's pit crew services Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet after Johnson's crew was benched in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on Sunday. Credit: LM Otero/Associated Press