As questions go, today’s big one is really big. But, it’s the kind we all liked so much in high school because it’s a multiple-choice question and and there are only two choices. And, the correct answer will be posted in less than two weeks.
So, here it is: Was Chad Knaus’ decision to yank Jimmie Johnson's pit crew in the middle of Sunday’s Chase race at Texas Motor Speedway a stroke of genius or a morale-crushing death blow to championship hopes.
Put me down for A, stroke of genius. Final answer.
There are no doubts that the move by the veteran crew chief was a stunner. Middle of the race, three races from the end of the Chase, driver leading in points when race started, group of guys who have played a major part in four consecutive championships, television lights blanching out the setting Texas autumn sun. Bold.
But pull his over-the-wall gang Knaus did. He got on the radio after another sub-par pit stop, ordered the crew of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (who had just crashed out of the race) to report to Johnson’s pit stall, huddled both teams, pushed the button and dropped the nuke.
Had to do it, Knaus said. Didn’t want to, had to. The team was losing ground on virtually every pit stop to that point – seven of them. Had to.
Then Knaus quickly brushed aside the rip job that the freaked out folks with microphones were issuing at high volume. Demoralizing? Humiliating? Degrading? Forget that crap, Knaus said. This is a team sport populated by well-paid pros. He himself is a pro and is being paid to win, he said, so… “you have to do that stuff. It is not uncommon.”
Neither Johnson’s blue-clad boys nor Gordon’s flame-suit boys looked real happy about what happened.
When cornered post race, Johnson himself sounded kind of confused by what had occurred behind his pit stall.
When was asked if the move could rip his team apart, Johnson first said, “I’m not really sure. It’s so fresh and I just got out of the car. I’m not sure what the implications will be through the shop.”
Then he said, “We’ll find out. I have no clue. That’s uncharted territory for us.”
But Johnson also stood behind Knaus and the contention that big, bold action was needed.
“We’ve been lacking and we need to get it straightened out and it was a good wake-up call for the guys, if anything, to bring the No. 24 crew in and let them do their job and let them watch,” Johnson said. “I really do care for these guys with the bottom of my heart. They’re my guys. But, man, we have to perform. We can’t come down pit road and lose 10 spots every stop. That’s just killing us.”
When Johnson was pressed on the wake up call thing, he said, “The alarm clock has been ringing for a while. It’s been ringing. And this is a new level to that. But the alarm clock has been ringing for quite a few months.”
Johnson left Texas Motor Speedway in second place. He left trailing new leader and confident possessor of mega momentum Denny Hamlin by 33 points and he left with pesky third-place driver Kevin Harvick just 26 behind him.
Johnson’s crew must have left Texas somewhere between embarrassed and disgraced. And its members must have left not knowing what their future holds.
And NASCAR fans left wondering if the decision by Knaus was genius or devastating.
Again, the opinion here is the move was good one. Perhaps a championship-winning one.
Knaus has made very few bad moves while performing a job which is all about making decisions and moves.
His record on doing the right thing is freakish. Season after season, race after race, call after call the 48 Chevrolet seems to be stronger every time a green flag drops.
Few sweat when Johnson and his team qualify poorly or fall a lap off the pace during the races. It’s become a given that Johnson and Knaus will consider the situation and make the right moves and when the laps are winding down, the 48 will be in contention for the victory.
That has been especially true during Chases. You don’t stack up those goofy silver trophies by blowing calls.
So, genius or bumbler?
Jim Pedleyis a veteran, award-winning sports journalist who has worked at, among other places, the Boston Globe, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Kansas City Star. Pedley spent more than 10 years covering auto racing for the Kansas City Star. Pedley can be reached at