CONCORD, N.C. – After 16 seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, Kevin Meendering took an opportunity to serve as a crew chief at JR Motorsports, where he accumulated three wins, two poles, 39 top-five finishes, 77 top-10s and a 2017 regular-season title.
Now, Meendering is back at Hendrick Motorsports in a new role – crew chief of the No. 48 team.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity I’m excited for,” he said. “There’s a lot of familiar faces here that I’ve worked with over the last 16 or 17 years and I’m excited. This is what I’ve always dreamed to do. I’ve never worked anywhere else but within the Hendrick organization. I spent three years at JR Motorsports, but I still felt like I was part of the family and just kind of waited for my opportunity to come back.”
Even in a new role, Meendering’s transition back to Hendrick Motorsports has been relatively seamless, as he was already plenty familiar with many of his teammates and coworkers.
“I think having previous relationships here at Hendrick has helped me get up to speed quick,” he said. “There’s a culture here that I understand.”
Building a relationship with a new driver can take some time, but Meendering said his previous experience with his driver, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, has helped their communication early on.
“Jimmie’s such a great guy,” the crew chief said. “He’s so down-to-earth and easy to talk to that it really isn’t a challenge working Jimmie, I don’t feel like. I think it’s just trying to understand just how he describes the car and what he’s looking for, how much of a change he needs, stuff like that.”
That communication doesn’t stop with just Johnson and Meendering. The entire No. 48 team – which has added some new faces – has been building together as the group prepares for 2019.
“Obviously I brought in my ideas and we brought in a few people into that mix,” Meendering said. “It’s all about blending personalities and getting the most out of your people and how do you get them to work well together and get along with each other. I think we have a great group. I’m very excited going into the year. I think there’s not a better team out there.”
Plenty of eyes will be on the new crew chief-driver duo as the season begins. With Johnson continuing to chase a record eighth Cup Series championship, it would be easy to assume the crew chief would feel a bit of pressure. But Meendering sees it differently.
“Obviously we have to perform,” he said. “Surrounding yourself with great people and all the resources here at Hendrick Motorsports makes the pressure easier for me because you’ve got so much to back your decisions on.”
The No. 48 team is looking to learn from 2018 to come back full speed ahead in 2019, and confidence remains high as Daytona Speedweeks get underway.
Meendering has his sights set on Victory Lane early and often.
“To win the Daytona 500, that’s the first expectation,” the crew chief said. “I think we have very high standards and we expect to hit the ground running, lead laps at Daytona, move on to Atlanta, win Atlanta, that’s our goal.
“That’s why we’re here.”