|Credit: Beth Reinke/Skirts and Scuffs|
Jimmie Johnson may have won the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway, his 10th win at the 1.0-mile track, but for crew chief, Chad Knaus, the race always starts on Friday.
How the team unloads and performs in the practices and during the qualifying runs sets up, to some degree, how the team will perform when the green flag drops on Sunday.
"We've really done pretty pitiful on Fridays and got to do significantly better there and we're working really hard on it, really hard, and if we can do that, it'll set us up to get in position to get a solid pit pick and really let our pit crew start to shine.
"Although we've had a couple of bad finishes, I think the major problem there is the starting on Friday, and I think when we've had the bad finishes, I think we've actually performed fairly well, solid top 10," Knaus noted.
That pit selection, based on a team's qualifying effort, was in doubt as the team arrived in Dover. The No. 48 team received a P1-level infraction for multiple written warnings after the back-to-back race weekends in Charlotte. Because Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty, Knaus skirted the issue of having to make one of the final pit selections for the race.
Though the No. 48 Lowes Pro Service team didn't start where they wanted, they were able to make significant adjustments throughout the race to get to the front and stay there.
|Credit: Beth Reinke/Skirts and Scuffs|
"We didn't qualify quite as well as what we wanted to, but Jimmie made quick work to get up to the top five, and gosh, it just seemed like we were going to run the top five, in fifth all race long. For about 75 percent of the event, we just couldn't seem to get together. Much like he said, he'd put together a couple of really fast laps and gain on somebody and then he would lose the air and we would gain a couple on pit road and we'd lose them on a restart, and we just couldn't get it... then finally we started to put it together and get a couple here and a couple there, and once Jimmie got into position to where he could battle with the guys for the lead, he did a very, very good job and made quick work of those guys.
"I couldn't have been prouder. He did a fantastic job on the restarts, got it out there, managed what he needed to, got the gaps where he needed to, and it was pretty awesome," Knaus beamed.
To the casual fan, it may seem as if the No. 48 is having a bit of an up-and-down year. Some weeks are great; other weeks look like the team may not be firing on all cylinders. Knaus wants fans to think differently about those "off" weeks.
"Well, I think that you're spending too much time looking at the result and not the performance, first and foremost. I think at Martinsville if we hadn't had a power steering cooling problem we probably would have finished in the top five easily. Last week in Charlotte, we qualified poorly, and Jimmie did a great job of managing it and driving to the front, we worked on the car really hard. Unfortunately he spun out, which gave us the opportunity to work on the car, but we were tracking in and waiting for the evening hours to come.
"I think that as we're finding our stride with the rule package this year, I'm actually fairly pleased with the way that we've been performing," Knaus said.
He should be pleased; those performances have catapulted the No. 48 team to the top of the Chase grid with four wins so far this season. With Knaus at the helm of this team, "so far" seems to be the distance between Johnson and the rest of the field.
The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
Her other interests include country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.