On Sunday, Chad Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports made an unprecedented move by using Jeff Gordon's pit crew to service the Jimmie Johnson car after a number of awful pit stops performed by the #48 bunch at Texas.
This was followed up on Monday, by news that this will be a permanent switch, at least for the remaining two races of the season.
Just like almost anything that happens in NASCAR, this move has come under intense scrutiny from NASCAR fans, who believe this makes Johnson a “cheater.”
Cue the violin.
It seems like almost anything Jimmie or Chad does ticks off a non-Johnson fan, just like how any rule change Brian France makes for the sport is bad even though nobody knows how it will play out.
Caution for debris late in the race?
It was a phantom caution to help Johnson close in on the leader.
A front-runner blowing their tire which lets Johnson take over the lead?
NASCAR took matters into their own hands and supplied a faulty tire to Goodyear, which ended up in the respective driver’s pit.
Jimmie not getting any speeding penalties on pit road?
Hendrick paid off NASCAR to keep any penalty quiet.
Knaus switching crew members mid-race because his guys weren’t getting the job done?
It’s obviously illegal and this means they’re cheating to stay on top.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe there was a point and time when NASCAR would throw “phantom cautions” late in the race to close up the field and induce a more exciting finish. Do I think they were thrown just so Jimmie could win the race?
No, because Jimmie clearly was not the benefactor in every one of those cases.
The thing I don’t understand is why NASCAR would want to do this in the first place. Since Jimmie has went on a Chase tear and began this most recent sports dynasty, TV ratings and attendance have both dropped.
It is pretty obvious that, although we are watching history and a really cool streak, it is not helping NASCAR’s bottom line to have only one winner each year.
Do I think they should change the rules of the Chase or NASCAR in general because of his success?
Of course not.
And I’m saying that as unbiased as possible, since I have been a Johnson supporter for at least a decade now, beginning from the time he was running in televised ASA races.
Changing the rules is not part of the argument though.
The argument is that, if Johnson winning is so bad for the sport and has alienated fans of other teams, why would NASCAR try to give him every advantage to win?
Actually, hold on a minute.
I should have stopped this five minutes ago because it’s useless to try and use logic when it comes to conspiracy theorists.
The Ethics of Sunday’s Move
I personally praise Knaus for his deciding to use the #24 pit crew on Sunday, and ultimately deciding to use them for the rest of the season. Throughout the year, Jeff Gordon’s pit crew has been clocked in as one of the fastest on pit road (according to ESPN during the race), so it’s only natural to try and take every advantage you can to win.
Say, for example, the Yankees bring in reliever David Robertson in a tightly contested playoff game. Robertson is very good at what he does, but he comes in and immediately gives up three runs. Do you stick with him?
Well, manager Joe Girardi might, but the answer is no. You don’t stick with him. When you’re in a “win today” mode, like Jimmie is/was at Texas, there is no room for error.
Sure, those guys won four championships.
But the goal right now is to win their fifth. If they are not going to step up, Chad will find some who will.
And that’s exactly what he did.
As for the effect it will have on the former-48-now-24 crew, I think, as professionals, they would understand. Their job is to help Jimmie stay as close to the front as possible, almost like a reliever's job in baseball is to hold the other team down as best as they can.
In Layman's terms, if Jimmie comes onto pit road in third, he expects to leave in third or higher.
Coming in at one position and leaving 10 spots back is not acceptable, especially when it happens more than once in a race, AND especially when it happens during a time when Jimmie needs to stay as close to his competition as possible.
No matter how good the crew might be, or might have been, there is absolutely no room for error in a points race as close as this one.
Chad, more than anyone else, understands this.
After all, how many fans who doubt his credibility have won one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, let alone four?