Monday, March 21, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from Auto Club 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Knaus

by Stacey Owens

Kryptonite. Apparently, nobody took any to Auto Club Speedway to take down Superman. Consequently, the No. 48 team wasted little time flying to the front of the field. Others tried to sneak past Jimmie Johnson, but crew chief Chad Knaus had other plans for getting his driver to Victory Lane for the second time this season and for the 77th time in the dynamic duo's career.

"Oh, wow. Man, I'll tell you what, try to recap how this went down. It's kind of mind-numbing right now," Knaus said.
"Obviously we pitted with the second-to-last pit stop. We short-pitted everybody by a lap. Then the caution came out. Fortunately enough Jimmie was able to get by the 4 car and stay on the lead lap.  But we knew we were going to be in trouble having one full lap on our tires when everybody else was going to have stickers.
"Unfortunately we fell back a little bit, I think maybe to seventh or eighth. Jimmie did a good job, he really did. For as aggressive as everybody was driving at that point, he managed his tires well, was able to get by a couple of other guys.
"I think we were probably going to settle in about fifth or sixth. When that caution came out coming down pit road, our pit crew guys knew what they needed to do. They knew they had to try to get us some spots if we were going to have any shot at getting a victory with the Superman Chevrolet. They did. Had a fantastic pit stop. I think we gained two or three spots, put us in third," Knaus explained.
"I was telling Jimmie just before that restart, 'Buddy, dig in deep, go find that cape.' He did. On that restart he did really well. He got up on the 4 car. They pushed past the car on the outside. He was able to drive down to the inside, blow by the 4 car, make it happen.
"I couldn't be prouder. Jimmie is obviously an amazing, amazing talent behind the wheel. For him to do what he did today I think speaks volumes about what that man is capable of," Knaus said.

Teams get a bit of a break before heading to Martinsville since there isn't a Sprint Cup race scheduled for Easter weekend. Knaus is a fan of winning just before the break because it gives his team an opportunity to enjoy the victory a little longer before getting back to work.

"Typically, as you guys know, as soon as we get back to the shop on Monday, we're focused on the upcoming event. Fortunately enough it's a long trip. Everybody gets to fly home, catch their breath, take a week to enjoy it. We make sure to emphasize with our guys that they do celebrate the victories, go out and enjoy it, whether that be going out and partying at a club, or going out and getting an ice cream with the kids. Whatever your way of celebrating is, we want to make sure they do that. This will give the guys plenty of opportunity to do that before we go to Martinsville, so I'm glad about it," he said.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
While other teams are still looking for their first win, Knaus is looking beyond the next few races and ahead to the first few Chase races as the No. 48 team seeks to make improvements.
"This year we're not going to worry about the summer months as much as what we need to, obviously, especially now since we've been able to capture this second victory which essentially locks us into the Chase.
"What we're going to do, we're going to focus forward, put our efforts into going into Chicago, New Hampshire, those first few races of the Chase. That's our main focus at this point.
"We want to perform well, win as many races as we possibly can. This [second win] provides an opportunity for us to go out there and be aggressive," Knaus said.

Getting a second win this early in the season isn't an easy feat in such a talented field of drivers. Making great calls and having an outstanding driver are essential. As well as the No. 48 accomplishes those tasks, Knaus still feels like there's a lot of work to be done.

"Look, let's be honest. Our job as teams is to build the best racecar we possibly can. We want to build the most downforce, we want to build the most mechanical grip, we want to build the most horsepower. He who does that wins, period. That's how it works, right?
"We have to try to do that on all levels. We need more horsepower, we need more downforce, we need more mechanical grip. We're going to do that to the best of our ability 100 percent. Once you do that, then you have all the other aspects of the race team you have to work on: pit crews, pit stops, so on and so forth.
"We're not where we want to be from my standpoint. We have a good product, but I'm hoping come Chase time, we're going to be better," Knaus said.
Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images
"Calling the race, honestly the way this race went by, don't take this lightly, but a fairly easy race to call because the stint was so long in between cautions that you knew you had to take four tires. If you didn't take four fires, you were going to be in trouble.
"Where it gets hairy is when you do a couple runs, you get toward the end of the race, there's 25 cars on the lead lap because of the wave-around, you get some guys maybe want to stay out.  

"Here this weekend, for this event today, it was not that difficult to call. The only thing you had to be cognizant of was what you were doing with your left-side tire pressures, your right-rear tire pressures. As a team, you needed to pay attention to that to make sure you didn't have a failure," Knaus explained.

Post-race, Knaus was questioned about whether his team can catch the record set by former teammate, Jeff Gordon. Ever the pragmatist, Knaus responded, "Let's worry about the next one. How is that?"

Knaus simply doesn't put the cart before the horse.

"If you start shooting goals like that, you can't do it," he said. "The thing you have to do, from my standpoint, is we have to worry about going to Martinsville and trying to win that race first. We have to worry about practicing well, qualifying well, winning that race. Then we have to do the same thing going to Texas, then so on and so forth throughout the rest of the season ... we focus forward, and that's what we're worried about."

If the No. 48 team still has worries -- even with Superman behind the wheel -- the other 39 teams better be concerned, because their worries may just be beginning.


   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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