When seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson takes the green flag for the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 10, it’ll be his first race with new crew chief Kevin Meendering.
After 17 seasons with Chad Knaus on the headset, Johnson will hear Meendering call the shots for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. While Meendering isn’t a household name like that of Knaus, the road to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead Johnson to a potential record-breaking eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship was well-earned.
Meendering worked his way up the ranks at Hendrick Motorsports, fabricating and building suspension parts shortly after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, transitioning to a research and development position before joining the No. 24 team of Jeff Gordon in 2008 as an assistant engineer.
In 2016, he moved to JR Motorsports to work with Elliott Sadler atop the box. In three seasons with Sadler in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Meendering led the No. 1 team to three wins, three playoff berths and two Championship 4 appearances (2016-17).
Between long hours in the shop during his first stint at Hendrick to his success in the Xfinity Series with a veteran driver, Meendering has proven himself worthy of this shot in the Cup Series. When asked what he wants loyal fans of Johnson and the 48 team to know about him, the first words he uttered were “hard working and very driven.”
“I want to win races, just like Jimmie does,” Meendering said when the change was announced in October. “We’re all in this … we didn’t reach this level just being complacent. I feel like I’ve earned this position. I’ve worked hard.”
“It’s my goal to take this team and take Jimmie and win that eighth championship for him,” he added. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s a little surreal to be put in this position and I’m excited. There’s a lot of history with Jimmie and this 48 team. Just to be a part of it is exciting.”
The 37-year-old admitted he has some nerves going into his first season with arguably the best driver to ever compete at NASCAR’s highest level. But behind every great driver and crew chief pairing are hundreds of people at the shop who make it all happen behind the scenes. Meendering knows the depth of the organization because he’s been there before.
“We have such a strong organization here, so many smart, important people backing you,” Meendering said. “The resources are just phenomenal. That definitely helps.”
Meendering is also confident of the relationship he and Johnson have been able to develop in such a short period of time, which is another reason why fans of “Seven-time” should have no cause of concern with this fresh start.
“He’s so easy to work with and he really is just one of the guys when you’re talking to him,” he said. “…He’s just so down to Earth and so level-headed, it’s just really easy to communicate with him.”