DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The echoes of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports go well beyond the familiar number that Jimmie Johnson will be driving in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express Racing has been surrounded by reminders during the Roar Before the Rolex at Daytona International Speedway this weekend.
Its stall is cordoned off by the black nylon dividers that the No. 48 Cup team has used to shoo away unauthorized personnel in the garages of NASCAR’s premier series. The paint scheme is strikingly similar to Johnson’s No. 48 Camaro from his final two seasons in Cup.
And five Hendrick employees are helping support the car – most notably vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who guided Johnson to his seven NASCAR Cup championships and now will try to help win his first Rolex 24 at Daytona.
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During Sunday morning’s warmup session, Knaus walked briskly from the team’s garage stall to pit lane to monitor laps by Johnson and co-driver Kamui Kobayashi. Johnson said Knaus has been running the settings on a laptop program to help sift through driver data.
“It’s been great to work with him,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely ingrained in the team.
“It’s awesome. There’s nothing weird about it. It’s very meaningful to me, and I know it is to him to be back working together. It’s been awesome. I’m really, really excited about it.”
According to a Hendrick Motorsports team spokesman, the team dispatched five team members to Daytona in support of Johnson’s car – Knaus, an engineer, two mechanics and a pit crew member.
Team owner Rick Hendrick helped broker the business deals that put Johnson in an Ally-sponsored all-star car one-off for the Rolex 24 and opened a slot for Chase Elliott on the No. 31 (because that is Action Express’ fully staffed championship team, Hendrick has no team members on that car).
So it was natural for the team to send some employees to Action Express team manager Gary Nelson, a former Hendrick employee and NASCAR Cup Series director.
“With Rick being involved and all the very talented race people at Hendrick Motorsports, that’s how they ended up there,” said Johnson, who drove 19 seasons for Hendrick from 2002-20 before .
HMS guys are getting pretty good at pit stops on the Ally Caddy pic.twitter.com/8jpUp2kERU
— Chad Knaus (@chadknaus) January 24, 2021
Nelson told SportsCar365.com that Action Express had recruited some other NASCAR team members for the No. 48 pit crew, selling them on the chance to get ahead with NASCAR’s impending switch to single-lug pit stops next season.
IMSA teams use the aluminum wheels and single lug nuts that will be on the NextGen car, which incorporates many elements of sports cars.
“That requires a lot more powerful air wrench than the five lug nut, NASCAR-style of today,” Nelson told SportsCar365. “The air gun is so much heavier. It didn’t take them long, but it is a transition that these pit crew guys will not have to go through in NASCAR next year.”