Jimmie Johnson enters 2019 with a lot of “news.”
New sponsor, new paint scheme and, perhaps most importantly, a new crew chief in Kevin Meendering.
Looking to get back to Victory Lane after failing to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in a full-time season for the first time in his career, Johnson will have a new voice coming over his radio after nearly two decades with Chad Knaus.
The 37-year-old Meendering, who called the shots for the JR Motorsports No. 1 Chevrolet of Elliott Sadler the last three Xfinity Series seasons, checked in with Sirius XM NASCAR Radio on Thursday afternoon to chat about his upcoming venture with one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Meendering. “The good part about it is we have so many resources and a lot of great people to support you over here (at Hendrick Motorsports) and that really helps with the pressure side of it. …
“ … I couldn’t be in a better situation or work with a better driver than Jimmie. He has the most experience and has had so much success. I think the biggest thing is, he knows what he needs, the feeling he’s looking for in the race car and we just gotta work hard to get that to him. I think being a young crew chief, first year in the series, I think having a veteran with that kind of experience to bounce ideas off of is just an incredible situation for me and I’m looking forward to it.”
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Meendering will be making a return to Hendrick Motorsports after previously having a 16-year association with the outlet, starting as a high school intern with the organization’s chassis shop. He eventually grew into the role of lead engineer for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet in 2011.
His first task? Figure out what went wrong in a 2018 season that ranks as the seven-time champion’s worst in an illustrious career — and find a way to ring that famous “Victory Bell” at the Hendrick shop once more.
Building a solid rapport with his new driver can’t hurt, either.
“What do we need to build in our cars and how are they going to race on track is what we’ve working on and on top of that, just spending as much time as I can with Jimmie and working on that communication,” Meendering said. “Hopefully we can work through all those bugs and issues and be ready for Daytona.”
After spending three years away from the HMS shop — albeit at the Hendrick-associated JRM headquarters in Moorseville, North Carolina — Meendering noticed right away how well all four Hendrick teams are collaborating to relocate the speed the longtime Chevrolet powerhouse had long held.
And when it comes to the No. 48 team, specifically, he’s getting a helping hand from a man with a pretty strong familiarity.
“I talk to (Chad Knaus) more now than the 17 years I was here prior. We always had a great relationship and I think we work well together,” he said. “All four of us (crew chiefs) are working well together this year to try and get what we need to go faster. I think that’s probably the biggest difference in the organization from when I was here before, is just how well the teams have bonded and how close they work together, which is great.
“It takes everybody to get the job done. It takes everybody’s input. You’ve got to surround yourself with smart people, intelligent people that know what it takes to get the job done. It’s not one person that’s going to win races. I think building those relationships with the people back here at the shop, the engineers and guys on the team, that’s a big part of it and that’s important for the offseason. … That’s what we’re here for, to win races.”