Monday, March 2, 2015

Right Sides Only: Notes From Atlanta Winning Crew Chief, Chad Knaus


Who said qualifying was necessary? It certainly wasn't Chad Knaus, crew chief for the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. When the team wasn't able to qualify because of technical issues in the inspection area, Jimmie Johnson was forced to start in P37 for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He didn't stay there long. Johnson was second only to Kevin Harvick in the number of laps led having been up front for 92 laps.
Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
That inability to qualify might have unnerved a less seasoned crew chief, but Knaus rolled with the punches.

"NASCAR right now, they've got a group of officials. Once the inspection process begins, they kind of separate. We have some in the Nationwide garage, some in the Cup garage. Maybe they're a pinch understaffed in getting their rhythm figured out. I think our wheel offset was off a little bit. Maybe our skew was off a little bit with the alignment of the rear-end housing.

"When we rolled out of the garage for qualifying inspection, there was really only an hour left before qualifying was to begin. The whole day was kind of slow. I think once everybody gets familiar with what their jobs are, I think that will start to get faster, go faster, where we won't have this much of a backlog.

"It's difficult to do that. NASCAR is trying to provide a level playing field for everybody, but it's something that needs to be addressed."

The worst part of not being able to qualify was being left with a less than favorable pit stall.

"We had to shoehorn in where we could. The 19 ahead of us, they qualified well, ran well, we always had to come in behind them. The 34 car for the first half the race was doing a good job of maintaining on the lead lap. We were shoehorned in the middle of two cars. We couldn't get in," Knaus said.

"After we were done with our pit stop, we couldn't get out. We lost six to eight spots every pit stop for the first half of the race until we were able to get ahead of the 19, then we could get into our pit box cleanly.

"It is frustrating," he said. "But again, it's a direct result of what happens on Friday. That's why I've said time and time again, your race starts on Friday. How you qualify sets you up for the event, for your pit selection, sets you up mentally. Whoever's fault it was, ours, theirs, culmination of both, it didn't happen for us on Friday."

Teams are using a new rules package this season, and Knaus was asked about adjusting the car using the new rules.

"It wasn't a ton different than last year leading up to the event," he said. "Atlanta is a bit of an anomaly with the tire wear, the way the strategy plays out. Most of the racetracks we go to, you don't have that much of a tire fall-off."

He went on to say that these new rules may actually play to Johnson's on-track strengths.

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs

"I do think this type of package will help Jimmie. I think it will be better for him with the lack of grip. When we go to some of these other racetracks, it's going to be a different format."

The No. 48 team, by its own standards, didn't have a banner year in 2014. Having finished 11th, the team's lowest finish since Knaus and Johnson were paired by Rick Hendrick, they did what they do best in anticipation of this season.

"I just know we're going to continue to work and do the best we possibly can," Knaus said. "That's the vintage 48 methodology. If you win, you just put your head down, keep digging, try to get the next one. That's kind of how we're going to approach the season."

 If they continue to use the approach that rocketed the No. 48 team to Victory Lane for the 71st time, then the Knaus-Johnson pair could easily set new records this season.

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