Monday, November 21, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from the 2016 Champion Crew Chief, Chad Knaus

by Stacey Owens

The word milestone doesn't seem to describe it well. Even achievement misses the mark. What word aptly describes the milestone achievement that Jimmie Johnson reached this weekend as only the third driver in NASCAR history to win seven championships? There may not be one, but that's OK because even the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet had no words. Neither did his championship crew chief, also a seven-time winner, Chad Knaus.

"Holy smokes, I don't know if I can even begin," Knaus said when asked if he could break down the win from his perspective.
            
"It was obviously a challenge from the onset, but it's not that -- it's definitely not the race that we anticipated having. We thought we had a little bit more speed in our car yesterday. We didn't qualify well on Friday, so we didn't have the best track position throughout the course of the race, so we didn't really show the strength of our car until I think the very end. 
            
"But to be able to get up there, get clean air at the end of the end, Jimmie was actually able to do a fantastic job. I haven't had a chance to talk to him, if it was just him or if he thought the car was pretty good in clean air. So we'll have to find out what that was about. 
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"We ran well, but we just couldn't broach into that top five the way we needed to throughout the course of the day, and the guys worked hard, and it was awesome. It's an honor and a privilege to be able to be here today doing this," Knaus said.

Even before the race began, the No. 48 team seemed to be plagued with issues. NASCAR sent the team through pre-race inspection three times before clearing them to head to the grid with their fellow competitors. However, officials still saw something they didn't like with the car's A-post and forced the car through inspection yet again. For what NASCAR deemed an unapproved body modification, they sent Johnson to the rear of the field, forcing him to do what he does best: compete under pressure.

Johnson wasted no time soldiering to the front of the field. In a mere 15 laps, he'd moved to 15th place. Though he continued to move forward a few positions, he simply wasn't the class of the field. That's where Knaus enters the picture.

"I think we made the car better for sure. We were able to keep pace with those guys [Edwards, Logano and Kyle Busch] a little bit better. Jimmie was definitely able to run the bottom of the racetrack better. We just -- in traffic we just couldn't get from that fifth to eighth -- you know, in that area. Like it's just kind of like a black hole. It's very difficult to progress through that area, and we just couldn't get through there, so we needed to make some significant adjustments. We pulled some packer from the front. That helped the body attitude. He was able to get some good restarts, which put us in that position," Knaus explained.

That position worked to Johnson's favor when Edwards and Logano swapped paint and metal with 10 laps to go. Johnson and Busch were able to make their way through the melee and restart on Row 2, but another wreck involving Stenhouse Jr. shuffled the field again. Knaus addressed the turn of events.

"Was there some luck involved or bad luck? I don't even know," he said. "I don't know what the conversations were about Joey and Carl and all that stuff, so ... did that open up the door for us? Absolutely. But the fact of the matter is we lined up out there, and Jimmie drove that thing past those guys and won the race ... This team is solid from the standpoint that -- just we might get wavered, we might get shaken, we might get knocked back on our heels. But then we bounce back and we start jabbing right back, and that's the way that we've rolled, and we're going to continue to work that way until we're done," Knaus explained.
 
Credit Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Johnson and Knaus have been paired together since the driver signed with Hendrick Motorsports, beginning with the 2002 season. It's rare in NASCAR for one driver to remain with a crew chief for more than a decade, but the twosome works.

"Jimmie has taught me more about life than life itself has taught me. He's taught me about family.  He's taught me about relationships. He's taught me about being a champion. You know, when we started this thing, all I was was just a racer guy, and he was a cool California kid, and we kind of grew up together. To be in this situation to where we know he's got a handful of years left, whatever they may be, and for Jimmie and Mr. Hendrick to want me to stick with the 48 car and be at the helm of this ship, man, it's flattering. It really is flattering, because let's be honest, I'm getting older just like everybody else is. None of us is as young as we once were, and I look forward to the future with these guys," Knaus said.

With the history these two have made, the future looks exceedingly bright. 
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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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