CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chad Knaus defended the decision to dump Jimmie Johnson's crew with two races remaining, a move he said was done for the overall good of Hendrick Motorsports.
"I don't think people understand it's not an easy decision," the crew chief said Tuesday, a day after Hendrick Motorsports said Jeff Gordon's crew would pit Johnson for the rest of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"There are emotions involved. We love our guys. We eat, sleep, drink with them. We win with them and we lose with them. But ultimately it is bigger than seven guys. We are 520-people strong here (at Hendrick Motorsports)."
Knaus benched his crew in the middle of Sunday's race when an accident knocked Gordon out of the race and his crew became available. The No. 48 team had slogged through a pair of pit stops that had cost Johnson, the four-time defending NASCAR champion, valuable track position.
Even though Gordon's No. 24 crew was flawless the remainder of the race, Johnson finished ninth and dropped out of the points lead this late in a championship race for the first time since 2005.
Race winner Denny Hamlin took over the points lead, and Johnson goes into Phoenix this weekend trailing by 33 points.
Knaus said Gordon's accident gave the organization a rare opportunity to make a change on a day the No. 48 team wasn't performing.
"It was a unique situation," Knaus said. "They're crashed out, they're sitting there and our guys are struggling. To not do that would be a mistake."
Knaus also downplayed the significance of making a move viewed by many as cutthroat for a four-time championship winning team.
"I hate to say this as bluntly as it is, but it's like changing a spring or changing a shock," he said. "You have to put the best components together to try to win the championship. Unfortunately, we're not in the situation where (Gordon) can win the championship right now from this building, and that's what it's about — this building."
Both Gordon and Johnson's teams work side-by-side in the same building on Hendrick's sprawling campus. Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s teams have a similar set up in a nearby building.
"How we operate here is completely different than how they do at other race teams. We operate as a team group. To mix these guys up a little bit is not a situation or a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination," Knaus said.