Monday, February 29, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Knaus

By Stacey Owens

Hollywood may not include a Best Crew Chief as it hands out Academy Awards, but if they did include such a category, it's a safe bet that Chad Knaus would be among the nominees ... and would likely walk away with the Oscar.

Knaus helped lead Jimmie Johnson to the team's 76th win, which ties Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the all-time wins list. When the two were paired early in Johnson's career, did Knaus ever imagine reaching such a milestone?

"Wow, I mean, on so many levels it's pretty amazing. When we started this thing back in 2002, I never would have thought that we'd be here today with 76 victories as a team. It's pretty impressive, and it's an honor to have been able to do it. We've done it with a lot of great people, obviously, with various team members, some still with us, some not. Obviously an amazing owner and a great group at Hendrick Motorsports, but probably one of the biggest ones is Lowe's hanging with us and contributing to our efforts year in and year out.
             
"Jimmie is pretty awesome, isn't he? Let's be honest, he's just a heck of a race car driver. He's a lot of fun for me to work with.
             
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"Today was great. We were able to get out there and race and race our way to the top four or five I think it was, and just kind of manage that position all day long, waiting until the end. I don't think we necessarily had anything for the 4 and the 78. We were a little bit better than the 78 in one corner and a little bit better than the 4 in another corner, but we weren't better than either of them in both corners. So we were really just kind of stuck in third, so we needed to try to figure out a way to get to the front and get the lead, obviously, through those pit cycles. Through the middle portion of the race we were really monitoring what everybody was doing, our tire wear, what everybody else's tire wear was, and what people were thinking about doing, and you could just see it. Around 40 laps, everybody wanted to pit and everybody was getting nervous about their tires. As we were going through the race ours was getting better, so we were like, 'Shoot, let's go ahead and throw it out there and see what happens.'
             
"It gave everybody an opportunity to come down pit road with us at that point.  It would have been kind of a moot point, but they were nervous I think, obviously, and didn't want to get tires on that early, and it worked out.
             
"After the pit cycle, I think we had a 10-second lead, maybe an 11-second lead, and we just needed to try and manage that throughout the rest of the race.  Unfortunately that dang caution came out, but the guys had a great pit stop, we got out there and Jimmie get a heck of a restart and was able to bring it home," Knaus said.

Having reached such a monumental achievement, most drivers would begin their celebration with a burnout before heading to Victory Lane, but Johnson, at the admonition of Knaus, did not. Why would his crew chief not want him to have a little fun burning up the tires?

"Man, did you see what happened to the 18 on Friday? I'm not taking any chances right now. I don't want anything bent or broken or anything to warrant any type of problem right there. So until we understand exactly what's going on with all the post-race measuring, which it's a pretty big deal, we don't know how all this -- we don't know what these cars do during a race, especially at a racetrack like this where there's a bunch of bouncing and moving and so on and so forth, that pit stops, there's a lot of wear and tear on these race cars throughout the course of an event and I just didn't want to take a chance on him tearing something up doing a burnout and not passing post-race LIS. Yeah, that's why," Knaus explained.

Getting to the win started early for Johnson. He began the race mid-pack but quickly soldiered to the front. Atlanta Motor Speedway, however, lends itself to long green-flag runs, and the field didn't get an opportunity to take any kind of rest until they passed the halfway point of the 500-mile race.
 
"This is the type of racetrack honestly that you see a lot of long green-flag runs because the tire wear is so high that the drivers, they're just trying to stay away from everybody and just stay in control. I wasn't really shocked that we came out of the gate with a couple long green-flag runs at that point.
             
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"I was a little surprised how quickly people were willing to short pit and not wait for a failure. That showed a lot of maturity, I think, throughout the whole garage area. Nobody wanted to take a risk and have a situation where they created a big caution or had a tire come apart, which is different than what we've seen in the past. Typically people go and go and go until they do have a tire failure and then it just becomes habitual after that, right?
            
"It wasn't unexpected by any stretch," Knaus said.

Knaus gambled with a risky call for Johnson to short pit for tires ahead of the field. Was he confident in that call?

"It was a gamble for sure. We hadn't gone that far yet on a set of tires. We were trying to figure out what to do. We were chatting about it, myself and my engineers, who do a great job, and we could have easily just hung out and finished third, but we weren't going to pass those guys, so we had to do something. So it was just a matter of how early to pit because if we didn't pit early enough, if we only pitted just a couple laps earlier than everybody else, it would have pulled the rest of them down with us, so we had to make it to where we did it to where it would make them uncomfortable and not willing maybe to take that risk.
             
"Yeah, we felt confident that once we got out there and once the No. 4 started to get into some traffic and we were monitoring his lap times, that we kind of had it at that point, if it went green, which it didn't," Knaus explained.

Knaus and Johnson continue to add to their list of impressive achievements, which includes two Daytona 500 wins, the most wins on 1.5-mile tracks and six Sprint Cup championships, among others. 

The pair has already qualified for the 2016 Chase. A seventh championship win for the No. 48 team would tie Earnhardt Sr. as well as Richard Petty for the most championships. Could this be the year Johnson ties the record? Hang on. It's going to be an interesting season.

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   Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    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.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves 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.



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