It hasn’t been a good couple of years for Jimmie Johnson, and on Monday, it was his crew chief that paid the price. Kevin Meendering was replaced by Hendrick Motorsports with Cliff Daniels. Daniels will be running the show on Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen in New York.
Meendering was in his first year, having replaced long time Johnson crew chief Chip Knaus. While Knaus had 17 years with Johnson, Meendering didn’t even get a full season.
There was no reason given for the change, but Johnson’s continued slump could be a big part for the move. Johnson has not won since June 2017 at Dover. This year he has just three top-5 finishes. He is 12 points out of the final spot for the Cup Series Playoffs. There are five races remaining.
Daniels, 31, has worked with Johnson in other capacities. He was the race engineer when the No. 48 driver won his seventh Cup Series championship. He had been with Hendrick’s competition systems group this year, but moved back to Johnson’s race engineer last month in Sonoma.
“We have great confidence in Cliff’s ability to win races with Jimmie and the team,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “He’s a natural leader and tremendously talented from both a technical and communication standpoint. Cliff’s familiarity with Jimmie and the No. 48 team culture will benefit us a ton. He will bring the spark that’s been our missing ingredient.”
Johnson said in statement that he was excited to see Daniels back.
“Cliff has really shined since he came back to the 48,'” Johnson said. “When he returned, there was an immediate change in the team dynamic that all of us felt. We’ve worked together for a long time, have a ton of mutual respect and a shared vision. I have no doubt the strong connection and working relationship is going to pay dividends right away.”
Nine Cars Fail Inspections
Last Sunday’s Gander RV 400 could have been the final straw for Meendering. Johnson was one of nine drivers whose cars failed pre-race inspections before Sunday’s Cup Series race at Pocono.
In addition to Johnson, Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Reed Sorenson, Michael McDowell, Corey LaJoie, and Chris Buescher, were all penalized.
Dillon’s engineer Ryan Sparks was ejected from the team, after the No. 3 car failed inspections twice before the race.
Johnson, along with the others, had to start at the back of the field, despite qualifying for the sixth spot. He ultimately ended up 15th. Another lowlight for Johnson was when his right rear tire ran over a jack as he was exiting pit row after a stop. The incident didn’t seem to affect his position or the car’s performance.
This Week’s Odds, Pick
The drivers are at Watkins Glen for the Go Bowling at the Glen. Kyle Busch is the +250 favorite, while Martin Truex Jr. is next at +350.
We like Denny Hamlin at 10/1. He was victorious here in 2016, and is on a hot streak as of late.