CHARLOTTE – Half of Hendrick Motorsports’ driver lineup will be new in 2018, but that only represents the surface level of the team’s massive overhaul for this season.
In a visit to the NASCAR on NBC podcast during this week’s preseason Media Tour, seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson outlined the structural facelift of its sprawling 140-acre campus near Charlotte Motor Speedway. After running its four cars in pairs based out of two buildings for more than a decade (last season, Johnson’s No. 48 and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 were in one shop with the teams of Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne next door), Hendrick has redesigned its approach and will bring many of its processes under one roof.
“Everywhere we look, there’s change,” Johnson said. “Our two shops are now one. The process is just a lot different. So the way we’ve known it, we’re all trying to pull those layers back and say, ‘Let’s start over.’ We’ve got a great new starting point. And let’s figure out what the new normal is and how to make this work.”
The organizational chart for Hendrick’s competition department was redone last August, two months after the departure of general manager Doug Duchardt (who joined Chip Ganassi Racing). Hendrick also added longtime GM Racing executive Alba Colon last month.
Johnson said it’s changed the workflow for his team and crew chief Chad Knaus because “the way we go about doing our jobs, it’s a bit different now” as Hendrick attempts to building more cohesiveness across its lineup, which will add Alex Bowman and William Byron in place of Earnhardt and Kahne.
“Just from an efficiency standpoint and also trying to get all of the smartest people in a huddle on any given part of the car,” he said. “What’s been tough for us is we’ve had so much success with four teams sharing data … but all four cars are coming to the track different. Especially from the 48-88 shop to the other shop, pretty big differences.
“Why don’t we have all these smart people in one room think-tanking ideas? From engineering, brakes and transmissions, aero … down the entire line. So that’s really what we’re doing. In today’s world with sponsorship dollars where it is, it’s smart to be more efficient.”
After spending much of the last two years with his family in Aspen, Colorado, Johnson said he also plans to reside in Charlotte more often (while splitting time in Aspen and New York) as he takes a larger leadership role.
“I just feel that an area I haven’t fully exploited is just my involvement in the energy and the atmosphere within our race team,” said Johnson, who was winless over the final 23 races and finished 10th in the points standings, tying the second-worst finish of his career. “I’m around. I’m there. Definitely know my role as the driver, but just feel like I can do more. When I watch other pro sports, college sports, and you just see a locker room environment that looks very interesting and amazing. That’s something I feel I can help lead and orchestrate within the 48 and at Hendrick Motorsports.”