Monday, June 5, 2017

Right Sides Only: Notes from the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Winning Crew Chief, Chad Knaus


by Stacey Owens

Have you ever circled a date on the calendar? Maybe you were looking forward to a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps you couldn't wait for a movie to be released or you had a trip planned. Some NASCAR teams circle dates on their calendars, too. Chad Knaus, crew chief for race winner, Jimmie Johnson, for example, puts a little circle around the dates that teams head to Dover International Speedway.

"... coming into Dover is someplace that we've always ‑‑ put a little circle around it. We like it," Knaus admitted.

It's a good thing Knaus and Johnson are so comfortable at Dover, especially since the Delaware race marked the second time this season that Johnson has had to battle to the front from the last place on the starting grid.

The team was relegated to the 40th starting position after having changed a gear prior to the start of the race. Knaus only recalls having had to make such a change a few times during his tenure with Mr. Hendrick. Given the number of races he's called for Johnson, it was a sacrifice he was willing to make, "... quite honestly, over the course of my career, I think we've only had maybe four or five gear failures, and if you really start to look at that and the races that we've had at Hendrick Motorsports and what we've done, that's a pretty small emergency so we'll take that on the chin if we need to," Knaus said.

If Knaus had any trepidation about starting from the back, he never showed it. In fact, he talked about how stage racing has helped the drivers who've had the misfortune of starting from the back.

"But to start last, it's kind of ironic, Jimmie and I and the engineers were talking about starting at the rear of the field and how stage racing has quite honestly helped the guys that have that, that deficit, and we play that. We felt like the strategy was going to work out for us, and fortunately enough we had a really fast Lowe's Chevrolet and were able to capitalize and get up into the top 20, we had a caution fairly early, we came in, were able to get some tires, were able to migrate up towards the front, and with the speed the car had in it ‑‑ obviously Jimmie is fantastic here at this track. We were able to run in the top 5, battling for the lead, first, second and third and stay in position.

"So it's not exactly how we wanted the day to play out. We wanted to go up there and just take it and run away with it, but being in position and allowing Jimmie to have the opportunity to get after it on that last restart, you know, honestly that's what it's all about," Knaus explained.

Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs
The win marked the 11th time that the No. 48 team has run away with the victory at Dover International Speedway. To say the team is comfortable at the one-mile track might be a bit of an understatement.

"Yeah, I think you're always more comfortable going somewhere where you've been successful and you've got a good history. You know, there's venues that you go to, and if any of you guys have ever played sports or any type of competition, you know that there's a time when you walk in the door and you feel like you've got it or you've got an opportunity, and I can tell you when the 48 team and Jimmie Johnson, they roll into this racetrack, everybody is on their tippy toes and their chests are puffed up, and that comes from Jimmie's experience, Jimmie's ability to adapt," explained Knaus. 

"This racetrack changes an awful lot. I think if you guys pay attention you see that the track starts fairly white to a gray and then it end up black midway through a run and then as the caution comes out it turns white again, so the drivers really have to be willing and able to maneuver around the racetrack, find the best way to go,"

The team may be comfortable at the track, and they have certainly shown their ability to adapt to difficulties. That doesn't mean, however, that they want to start at the back on a regular basis.

"No, it's not what you want to do by any stretch. We'd much rather start in the top five or on the pole and have the races go seamless, but is it fun to start last and win the race? Yeah, it is. It's pretty cool. But that's not the way that we want to have it happen by any stretch," Knaus said. 

"You know, to have a parts failure that relegated us to the back, it happens, and it'll happen again, probably more than once, and it's a part of motorsports. It's a part of racing. It's a part of competition. But that's ‑‑ the motivation for that is not ‑‑ we don't say, 'Hey, we started last, let's go try to win the race.' Well, actually we do, but that's not ‑‑ we don't intentionally start last and say, 'Let's start last and try to go win the race,'"

Knaus is quick to point out that the team does want to win at every possible turn. Since stage racing has been implemented, the team has won three races, but has no stage wins yet. He talked about the team's desire to win and make continued improvements.

"We come to the racetrack to try to win everything that we possibly can. We want to win practice. We want to sit on the pole for qualifying. We want to win every stage, and we want to win the race. So if there is a checkered flag to be had, the 48 is going to the racetrack to try to capture it. So we're going to do that, and as far as experimenting throughout the normal season, before the playoffs, I think it's difficult for people to understand that we experiment every single time we go to the racetrack. We're always trying to evolve and get our cars better and faster so we can put our drivers in a position where they need to be, and I think at Hendrick Motorsports right now, honestly, we're doing a pretty good job if you look at the way all the teams are running. It's pretty awesome," Knaus said.

A pretty good job. If that's how the crew chief of the team that just earned its third win of the season and its 83rd win overall on their way to a run for their eighth championship sees their performance so far, then yes, they're having a pretty good year.

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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; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.















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