Out of a playoff spot, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is moving on to another new crew chief.
Hendrick Motorsports on Monday replaced Kevin Meendering with Cliff Daniels, who will be atop the pit box for Sunday’s road course race at Watkins Glen International in New York.
Johnson won seven championships with crew chief Chad Knaus over 17 years before they were split up after last season. Meendering failed to steer Johnson into victory lane, and the former champ is 12 points out of the 16-driver playoff field with five races left before the cutoff.
The 43-year-old Johnson has 83 career wins but none since June 2017 at Dover and is mired in the longest losing streak of his career. Johnson finished 15th in the No. 48 Chevrolet on Sunday at Pocono Raceway. He has just three top-five finishes this season and eight top 10s.
“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.”
The 31-year-old Daniels was Johnson’s race engineer on the 2016 championship team. He moved into Hendrick Motorsports’ competition systems group following the 2018 season and rejoined the No. 48 team as race engineer last month at Sonoma Raceway, a sign that a shakeup could be looming.
“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.”
Meendering will remain with Hendrick Motorsports in a senior competition role.
Johnson and Knaus won their record-tying seventh championship in 2016. Johnson hasn’t been much of a factor over the last three seasons and was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 2018. Johnson and Knaus were partnered in 2002 when Knaus built the No. 48 team as part of a Hendrick expansion and made the playoffs in all 15 years of its existence.
Knaus is the crew chief for Hendrick driver William Byron this season.