“That Was Probably a Mistake” – Rick Hendrick Admits to Hampering Jimmie Johnson’s Career With Crucial Decision


Rick Hendrick’s #5 Chevrolet team has proven its superiority with unmatched pace this season. When Kyle Larson swept the stages in Las Vegas to become the first Championship 4 contender, his blinding speed left the bleachers agog. Along with Larson, Hendrick would undoubtedly credit crew chief Cliff Daniels.
America’s Favorite Video Today
It would be hard to imagine a time when the team owner of Hendrick Motorsports was unsure about his championship-winning crew chief. Unfortunately, Rick Hendrick’s uncertainty led to a career-ending move for Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson.
Rick Hendrick waited too long for Kyle Larson’s #5 crew chief to ‘blossom as a leader’
ADVERTISEMENT Article continues below this ad
Jimmie Johnson had a historic career with Hendrick Motorsports’ #48 crew chief, Chad Knaus. In their seventeen years together, the iconic duo amassed seven Cup Series championships and 83 race wins. Their invaluable partnership was duly recognized when Johnson and Knaus were both inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame at the same time. Sharing the priceless moment, Johnson wrote, “We re-wrote the record books together, so it’s only fitting we are inducted together.” However, when the time came to pair Johnson with a new crew chief, Rick Hendrick was faced with the task of filling Knaus’ experienced shoes.
Although no one could realistically take his place, Cliff Daniels had been learning the ropes under Chad Knaus ever since he joined as race engineer of the #48 team in 2014. Daniels aided Johnson with his 7th championship title in 2016 and would have been the obvious choice to take over the team’s mantle. However, Hendrick chose existing crew chief Kevin Meendering over promoting a race engineer. A decision he came to regret halfway through the 2019 season. Daniels was promoted mid-season and finally appointed as the #48 crew chief. By then, however, Johnson had already lost his earlier momentum and chose to retire a year later.
At the brink of Cliff Daniels’ second championship title, Rick Hendrick was enquired about his questionable decision. In the interview shared by Auto Racing Daily, the 74-year-old team owner lamented his unfounded hesitation. Hendrick admitted, “That was probably a mistake”. At the same time, Hendrick explained the rationale behind the move. He recalled, “I think you want the guy to mature and you want to see what they can do…It’s easy to look back and say, wish I had done it then, knowing how good Cliff is and how quick he learned and how quick he matured and how he became a leader.”
Hendrick continued, “It has been so impressive and in hindsight, I probably would have done something different…It’s a crapshoot sometimes when you move a guy in the crew chief position that can be a great engineer, but can they lead a team? Can they lead people? You don’t really know that until you put them in that position and then you see what they’re capable of doing…I’m probably slower moving a crew chief than I am the drivers. But looking back, you just don’t know how a guy is going to blossom as a leader and I mean, that’s the key in this sport.”
Watch this story: NASCAR Legend Rick Hendrick’s Stern Warning Changes Ross Chastain’s Racing Style
The legendary crew chief, Chad Knaus, however, took a different stand than Rick Hendrick.
Jimmie Johnson’s Hall of Fame crew chief gauged Cliff Daniel’s future potential
Kyle Larson and the #5 team are preparing for the most important race of the season at Phoenix Raceway. Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels are ready to give it their all to win the coveted trophy for the second time in their four-year partnership. But HMS’ Vice President of Competition Chad Knaus knew Daniels was ready ever since their days together as Jimmie Johnson’s #48 team.
When Daniels eventually took on Knaus’ role, the revered crew chief enthusiastically vouched for Daniel’s capability. He assured, “First and foremost, you’re never ready until you put the pants on and go do it. But I think he has been prepared for this. He has driven race cars. He understands the mechanics of race cars. He has built his own racecars.”
ADVERTISEMENT Article continues below this ad
Knaus reminded me, “He has been a crew chief in the Cup Series for years now, sat right seat to me for six years, won a championship. This guy, he gets it, he knows it, he understands what it is that Jimmie [Johnson] needs. He is not afraid to speak his mind. He is not afraid to challenge Jimmie. He is not afraid to do what needs to be done to the racecars to make them faster, and that’s the kind of guy that really suits that #48 group.”
ADVERTISEMENT Article continues below this ad
Kyle Larson’s unparalleled form this year is a testament to the fact that Cliff Daniels suits the #5 team equally well. Rick Hendrick himself came to acknowledge that over the years. But would that be enough to cross the finish line this week?
NASCAR Community Outraged Over Ross Chastain’s Lost “Wrecking Ball” Persona


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here