Monday, October 10, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Bank of America 500 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Knaus

by Stacey Owens

Chad Knaus is a bit of an anomaly. The man actually enjoys meetings. His most recent meeting, however, was one any driver or crew chief would enjoy: It took place in Victory Lane.

Though the No. 48 team's win at Charlotte Motor Speedway was their 78th victory, it was a long time coming, at least for them. Jimmie Johnson last won earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway in March, which made for an uncomfortably long, hot summer. Luckily for Knaus, the summer months were full of meetings.

"Well, we had a lot of meetings. We definitely did. I love meetings. But no, quite honestly, we did have to have a lot of meetings," Knaus said.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs

Fans of the Lowe's Racing team have found themselves scratching their heads, wondering when the next win would come. Was the team wondering that, too?

"There wasn't any fist pounding per se, but what we did do was try to get together with all the heads of state, let's say," Knaus said. "You've got the crew chiefs, you've got the management group at Hendrick Motorsports, Kenny Francis and so on and so forth, and what we were trying to do was identify where our weaknesses were. And once we started to hone in on where we thought we needed to get some gains, we started to allocate the resources to where we needed it.
"That's what you've got to do, because one, when you get into a situation where you're behind a little bit, if you give the people the problem, let them go solve it, usually you get a pretty good answer with the people that we have at Hendrick Motorsports.
"It was a good learning curve for us ,because I think that as a company we needed to expand a little bit, and I think that we have done that. We've put responsibility in some different areas that maybe we hadn't in the past, and I think that all of Hendrick Motorsports is definitely going to feel a lot of responsibility for this victory, which is great for all of us. And I think they're going to have a sense of pride in knowing that they all contributed," Knaus explained. 

The team also had contributions from an unlikely source: Jeff Gordon.

Gordon, who retired from the sport at the end of the 2015 season, has been a part-time substitute for the ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr., sharing driving duties with Alex Bowman. The four-time champion has  offered his perspective to the No. 48 team, just as he did when he shared garage space with them at Hendrick Motorsports.

"Obviously we all want to have Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the race car," Knaus said. "He's a fantastic talent. He's a great contributor to the organization. But that being said, honestly, having Jeff Gordon in the car has really opened up our eyes to a different side of Jeff that's helped us. Jeff gives great feedback, as does Alex, and it's been interesting to hear what they say.
Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images
"[It's] kind of like when you hear the same thing over and over and over again, but then somebody else tells you the same thing, your ears kind of perk up a little bit."

Don't think that Earnhardt has been resting on his laurels, though. Just because he hasn't been behind the wheel doesn't mean that he hasn't played an active role in the shop.

"... it's been good to have Jeff in there, and honestly Alex has done a great job," Knaus said. "And quite honestly, Dale has been a huge asset, because as we all know, he is a student of the sport. He watches every lap, he pays attention to everything that we have going on, and he gives us feedback from his perspective of watching on television  listening to what the drivers say, listening to the crew chiefs' feedback  and helps guide us and direct us in what we've got going on.

"We've had a great opportunity to take everybody's suggestions and what they're feeling in the car and applying those to the race cars. I think you've seen that with the 5 [Kasey Kahne] finishing third today, the 24 [Chase Elliott] running as well as what they did, and, man, let's be honest, Alex was great today. It's been really, really good," Knaus said.

Long-time fans of the six-time champion know something else that's really, really good. Johnson has done what he has failed to do since the Chase format was tweaked a couple of years ago; he's advanced to the Round of 8 and is still alive in his quest for the elusive seventh championship, which would tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. 

At least for the next couple of weeks, those fans can continue to dream about that achievement. For the rest of the field, that dream may be their worst nightmare. 

     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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