Hendrick Motorsports makes crew chief change to Jimmie Johnson’s team

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Hendrick Motorsports is changing Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief with five races left in the regular season and Johnson outside a playoff spot.

Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday that Cliff Daniels has replaced Kevin Meendering, who was in his first year as the No. 48 team’s crew chief, effective immediately.

Johnson, a seven-time series champion, is in danger of missing NASCAR’s postseason for the first time since the format debuted in 2004. Johnson enters Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 12 points out of the final playoff spot.

Johnson is coming off a 15th-place finish this past weekend at Pocono Raceway that included his first stage victory of the season. Johnson has not had more than two consecutive top-10 finishes this season. Since placing third at Daytona, he has been 30th (Kentucky), 30th (New Hampshire) and 15th (Pocono).

Daniels, 31, was Johnson’s race engineer in 2016 when Johnson won his most recent Cup title. Daniels joined the team in December 2014 after being Tony Stewart’s race engineer the previous two seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing. He moved into Hendrick Motorsports’ competition systems group after the 2018 season and rejoined the No. 48 team as a race engineer at Sonoma Raceway.

“We have great confidence in Cliff’s ability to win races with Jimmie and the team,” said Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick 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.”

Meendering will remain with Hendrick Motorsports in a senior competition role.

“Kevin is a talent,” Hendrick said in a statement. “We have areas where he can make a major impact and help all four of our teams be successful. Everyone thinks the world of him, and we plan to keep him as a key member of our organization for as long as he wants to be here.”

Said Johnson in a statement from the team: “Cliff has really shined since he came back to the 48. 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.

“I’m so grateful to Kevin. He’s a truly awesome person who I think very, very highly of. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him in his new role. He’s a brilliant guy and will make all of us better.”