Monday, October 31, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Goody's Fast Relief 500 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Knaus

by Stacey Owens

What's the quickest way to cure the stress of racing for a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (other than a Goody's Fast Relief headache powder)? It's simple; you win. That's just what Jimmie Johnson did at Martinsville Speedway.

By winning his ninth grandfather clock at the "Paper Clip," Johnson became the first driver to advance to the final round, which guarantees he can race for a record-tying seventh championship. Since the Chase format was changed two years ago, Johnson hasn't progressed beyond the Round of 12. With wins at Charlotte and now at Martinsville, he can once again make a run for history.

Crew chief Chad Knaus is as excited as his driver is about the chance for another Sprint Cup championship.

"We were really pumped up to come in here with the 48, 88 shop, [and] everybody at Hendrick Motorsports," Knaus said. "We had an opportunity after winning when we did in Charlotte to really focus on this race to come in here with the best product we possibly could.
             
"It was good. We established ourselves as, I think, a contender early, running in the top 10. Then we had some problems. Jimmie did an amazing job being able to go out there and navigate through the field, get back up to the front. Then we caught a timely caution, made some good adjustments on the racecar. Jimmie did awesome early on in that last stint, was able to get the lead, go out there and do what we did.
             
"It was a great, great day  a lot of fun. We really enjoyed it."

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Johnson is the sole Hendrick Motorsports driver remaining in the Chase. Will Knaus rely on other HMS teams for information and assistance as the races wind down?

"There's not a whole lot we can do, to be honest, [other] than just be good teammates. With what we have with the roster at Hendrick Motorsports, our drivers understand what it is we need to do, our crew chiefs understand it, our teams really get it," Knaus said.
             
"It's been very encouraging over the course of this Chase to watch our teams work together. There's only so much you can do within the bounds of the rules, obviously.
             
"Alan Gustafson and Greg and Keith have done a fantastic job of working together with the 48 car, and us with the 24 when they were trying to battle through for the advancement in Talladega.
             
"The drivers on the track, I think you can just watch and see what happens. They're very courteous to one another. That's what you have to have.
             
"Not every team is like that. But fortunately enough with what Hendrick Motorsports does, the way Rick wants us to manage it, that's what we have at HMS, is a lot of respect for one another," he explained.

Next up on the schedule is Texas Motor Speedway. It's become a perennial favorite for Johnson who's won the last four fall races at the track. Having secured a spot in the final round, Johnson doesn't necessarily have to perform well there next weekend, but we are talking about a six-time champion.

"Yeah, it's unique, obviously, because that [Texas] is one of our favorite racetracks," Knaus said. "We're encouraged to go there. I really do want to go win that racetrack because it's such a great Jimmie vintage 48-style racetrack. The tires fall off, there's a lot of moving around, there's pit strategy, there's track position, there's driver line commitments. There's a lot of things that play into that race which is a ton of fun for us.
             
"But that being said, we need to now sit back, look at our car allocation and make sure that we're taking the best product that we possibly can to Homestead. When I get to the shop tomorrow, we're going to get together, look at what it is we've got, we may make a quick decision, maybe make a change.
            
"I don't think there's going to be a big change because I think we've got a bunch of really, really good racecars to take to Homestead. So we go to Texas and we try to do the best we possibly can for Lowe's and all of our corporate partners and everybody on the 48 team.
             
"If we can go and run in the top five at Texas, run in the top five at Phoenix, that just shows the strength of the team and brings us into that last race with a little bit of high stepping."
Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

For all the talk about a potential seventh championship, Knaus views the next few weeks a little differently.

"... it's not about the numbers. It's not about seven," he said. "It's not about tying Dale. It's not about tying Richard. It's not about beating Dale or Richard, beating Jeff for most wins. I think you guys miss what we're about.
             
"We want to go win Texas. You follow me? We want to go win Homestead. We want to go win Phoenix. Then, guess what, in a few months Daytona is rolling around; we want to win that one, too. That's the way we approach every single race. It's not about what we're eclipsing," Knaus explained.

One race at a time. That's how Johnson and Knaus approach a season. And it's within reason that as they approach the end of this season, they will eclipse the others vying for the championship trophy.

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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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