Jimmie Johnson is already on his second crew chief of the season.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday that Cliff Daniels would replace Kevin Meendering as Johnson’s crew chief. Johnson finished 15th on Sunday at Pocono after a pit stop issue during the race. He also started at the back of the field after his car failed inspection ahead of the race Sunday morning.
“We have great confidence in Cliff’s ability to win races with Jimmie and the team,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “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.”
Daniels was a race engineer for Johnson’s No. 48 car when Johnson won his seventh title in 2016. He had served in a different capacity for the team at the start of 2019 until rejoining the No. 48 team as an engineer in June.
Meendering will move to a competition role with HMS. This was his first season as Johnson’s crew chief.
Johnson provisionally on the outside of playoffs
Johnson, 43, is currently the first driver outside the 16-driver playoff field with five races to go before the playoffs. He’s 12 points behind both Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman, the two drivers tied for 15th.
Johnson is also the lowest Hendrick Motorsports driver in the standings. Teammates Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott have won races and guaranteed themselves playoff berths. Second-year driver William Byron is 12th in the standings.
Johnson has one more top five (three) and one more top 10 (eight) than Byron does. But Byron is higher in points partially because of a better average finish.
Chad Knaus was Johnson’s crew chief from 2002-18
Byron’s crew chief in 2019? Chad Knaus.
Knaus moved to the No. 24 team after he was the only permanent crew chief Johnson had ever known in his full-time career at Hendrick Motorsports. Ken Howes was Johnson’s crew chief for three starts in a part-time schedule in 2001.
Knaus and Johnson are the most successful crew chief pairing in modern NASCAR history. They combined for those seven titles and 83 wins and ripped off five straight championships from 2006-10.
But the pairing came to an end after the 2018 season when Johnson had the worst season of his career. It was his first winless season and his two top-five finishes were the fewest he’d ever had. It was also just the second time that Johnson had finished outside the top 10 in the points standings.
Will the switch to Daniels from Meendering help Johnson avoid a third finish outside the top 10 in points and the first missed playoffs of his career? It’s no guarantee. But with five races to go until the playoffs begin, there’s at least plenty of time for Johnson to make up those 12 points.
- - - - - - -
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
More from Yahoo Sports: