CONCORD, N.C. - Jesse Saunders started working with Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 48 team as an “underneath” mechanic. Four-and-a-half years later, he is the car chief for the seven-time champion Cup Series team.
“Honestly, I’m tickled with the opportunity and really want to make something out of it,” Saunders said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Saunders takes over for Ron Malec, the team’s longtime car chief, who is coming off the road. Driver Jimmie Johnson is excited to see what the new car chief can do after working with Malec and No. 48 team crew chief Chad Knaus for multiple years.
“Jesse is more than capable of the job – I have a ton of confidence in his experience and ability,” Johnson said. “He has been on our team since 2014 and worked under Chad and Ron that entire time, so he has had a good mentor and I know he will be great.”
Saunders agreed that the veteran leadership within the No. 48 team has helped prepare him for his new role.
“I’ve worked for some pretty good names in the sport, and to take over for Ron is obviously pretty humbling,” Saunders said. “I was fortunate enough to get the 2016 championship with those guys and learn the ways of Ron and Chad and everything they expect.”
Saunders’ career began like “like most guys in the garage,” he said. He credits hard work, perseverance and, most importantly, timing for getting him where he is today.
Now, it’s time to get things going.
With the Daytona 500 almost one week away, Saunders credited Hendrick Motorsports for providing the race teams with depth and the tools they need to be successful in 2018.
He feels good about working with Johnson, too. Now, he wants to continue to build trust and confidence with the seven-time champion driver.
“I think you definitely have to earn it in one respect, but I also think Jimmie has enough confidence in us as mechanics,” Saunders said. “We don’t have a deep relationship like him and Ron had, but I’ve been around the team and we know each other, and I think there’s a good foundation there. Now, it’s just stepping up to the new role and making sure that we’re doing the same detail-oriented stuff there and just give him that confidence.”