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The Journal Gazette

  • Jimmie Johnson celebrates with his crew in victory lane after winning the NASCAR All-Star auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Saturday, May 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Sunday, May 19, 2013 12:35 pm

Pit crew change pays dividends for Johnson

By STEVE REEDAP Sports Writer

Crew chief Chad Knaus gambled this week by making three changes to Jimmie Johnson's pit crew before the Sprint All-Star race and it paid off big time for the No. 48 team.

To the tune of $1 million.

Knaus decided to replace the front tire changer, the rear tire changer and the rear tire carrier despite the fact Johnson came in with a 44-point lead in the Sprint Cup standings after 11 races.

The replacements rose to the occasion.

On Saturday night, with $1 million on the line, Johnson entered the pits for the mandatory four-tire pit stop in fourth place, but he returned to the track in second place after a blazing 11-second stop.

On the restart Kasey Kahne chose the outside row, giving Johnson the inside track position. Johnson took full advantage, overtaking Kahne on the first lap of the 10-lap shootout and breezing to a record fourth All-Star win.

"Those guys absolutely nailed it," Knaus said of the pit stop.

Added Johnson: "When we started on the front row for the last segment I knew we had a good shot at (winning)."

Knaus believes the success the No. 48 pit crew in recent years can be traced back to the team's decision to "recruit" potential pit crew members coming out of college.

"We would have combines and we would pick a handful of guys or gals and we would run them through the paces and then we would dwindle them down to just a small few and work with those people," Knaus said. "We've been fortunate, it's been a long process and it has taken us quite some time. We've been fortunate over the course of the last few years to start to develop and get that fruit from what we started four years ago."

Knaus said many of the people they've brought in to work on the crew are great athletes, but didn't necessarily know much about the particulars of stock car racing.

Apparently they're learning pretty well.

"Now these athletes are starting to understand racing and understand the pressures that are involved to pit a race car for a guy like Jimmie Johnson," Knaus said. "It's tough, especially when you have cameras on your grille and watching every move and as soon as you make a mistake you get blasted in the media and the paper and everything else. These guys are starting to become numb to that type of pressure

"We're fortunate to have a little bit of depth and we've made three changes this year and I'm not saying we're perfect by any stretch because we had a couple mistakes tonight on pit road, but it just so happens they nailed it on the last one and hopefully that's a good sign of things to come."