CONCORD, N.C. – One week ago, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team wrapped up a two-day test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where they represented Hendrick Motorsports as they utilized the new rules package for the 2019 season.
“It was a huge benefit,” No. 48 team crew chief Kevin Meendering said. “At the same time, I think it was very important that we made sure we did a good job testing, because that’s information all three of our teammates can feed off of.”
Johnson agreed, noting that serving as the organization’s representative at the test was “a huge perk,” but also came with “a lot of responsibility."
“We made sure we were very thorough with all of our notes,” Johnson said, “and I was very thorough with what I experienced and felt in the car.”
While the No. 48 team was the one at the track, the other three teams paid close attention throughout the event. Meendering noted that he was in contact with all three other crew chiefs, sharing ideas even as the test was underway.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” Meendering said. “We got a lot of data and information to help us with how we build our cars and how we move forward with development.”
As the test played out, Johnson said the team was simply trying to understand what works best with the new package. The team tested out a wide variety of setups, even some on the extreme side, in order to get the best feel for what will be needed once the green flag drops on the season.
The driver explained that the group of competitors at the test hit the track for five “mini-races” in order to see how the cars perform in a pack.
“The speed of the cars was a little higher than I anticipated, so traffic was a bit of a handful,” he acknowledged. “With the five mini-races we had, we had some variations of the car set up that drafted a lot better than others. So, there is a sweet spot for the car.
“There’s going to be a fine balance of single-car speed verses the ability to drive it in the draft and in the pack.”
Meendering agreed that the importance of “drivability” was one of the main takeaways from the event.
“I think we learned that handling is still at a premium,” the crew chief said.
Both Meendering and Johnson said they were pleased with the test – and in particular the speed of the car during it – but another benefit of the event was the opportunity to work closely in a racing environment as a new crew chief-driver duo.
“Just being able to work with my team, being able to work with Jimmie, getting into that at-track environment and working through problems, communicating,” Meendering said. “Obviously, Jimmie’s a veteran and just his personality, he’s easy to talk to, he communicates really well, he describes the car really well. So, it’s easy to work on the car, work on the issue he’s having, because he describes things in such detail.”
Johnson pointed to his past history with his new crew chief as a major benefit. Meendering spent 16 years at Hendrick Motorsports before his three-season stint as a crew chief with JR Motorsports that preceded his return to the organization as the No. 48 team crew chief.
Now, as the two get to know one another through a new dynamic as teammates, the seven-time champion is excited for how their relationship is progressing.
“It’s been going great,” the driver said. “There was kind of a calm, cool, relaxed environment at the track, but we were still highly focused on what we needed to do. I think that coupled with a few new faces on the 48 and everybody kind of learning their new positions and getting experience in those positions led to a very productive test. “It really gave us a lot of confidence within ourselves and together as a group.”