Michigan II: Knaus, Letarte - Friday media visit

Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS (driven by Jimmie Johnson), and Steve Letarte, crew chief of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet (driven by Jeff Gordon), met with members of the media and discussed what they've been doing the...

Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS (driven by Jimmie Johnson), and Steve Letarte, crew chief of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet (driven by Jeff Gordon), met with members of the media and discussed what they've been doing the last few weekends off, whether or not the break may give them an advantage to prepare for the Chase, the efforts of their replacements, reorganizing in the shop, building new cars, easing back into the team, the severity of the penalty, the progressions of their careers and the emotional aspects of their suspensions.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THESE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKENDS OFF?

Letarte: "I don't know if the weekends were off. There's a lot of work to do at the shop; a lot of cars to repair. The Chase is coming up, you know. We share a shop and the No. 24 has been fortunate. We've had some pretty good luck all year so we're pretty well locked into the Chase. The No. 48 has been a little unfortunate. They've gotten caught up in some of those accidents so we've just been making sure that the two teams have a full stable of cars entering the Chase."

Knaus: "It's been busy. Obviously we've had a couple of situations at the race track with the No. 48. Chicago, for instance. Indianapolis, we had to try to staff up with that. We've put our heads together and we've built some new cars coming up for the Chase. Did some reorganizing in the shop and some things of that nature. But it's been a frustrating time off, obviously, not being able to be at the race track, but it's also been productive from the shop side of things."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS GIVES YOU AN ADVANTAGE FOR THE CHASE?

Knaus: "I don't think it honestly does. Unfortunately it's something that you have to adjust to in our industry at this point. It seems like it's becoming more common to have things like this happen than not. As far as an advantage, I don't think so. If anything, it takes away a little bit. Obviously the driver/crew chief communication level is something that you always want to continue to maintain. Six weeks off, that starts to break down a little bit. But it does give the guys that come to the race track the opportunity to feel a little bit of pressure and have a little bit of weight on their shoulders and it makes them stronger for sure. I don't know if it's necessarily a good thing but it doesn't necessarily hurt either."

Letarte: "I agree with Chad. It's never a good thing not to be at the race track. You want to be here every week. You want to be in conversation with your driver, your head in the window net. That's kind of how you build that communication level. At the same time, it's forcing guys on our teams to maybe open their horizons and see some more challenges and I think that's going to make our team stronger. But you definitely don't want to be away from the race track. This is what we do."

ON THE EFFORTS OF THEIR REPLACEMENTS, JEFF MEENDERING AND RON MALEC:

Letarte: "I can't say enough about Jeff Meendering. I think he did a phenomenal job. I've been in his shoes before when I took over for Robbie for the first race at Loudon. Jeff Gordon is a superstar, he's a four-time champion and there's always a pressure to go out and win. I think his record speaks for himself in the last six races. I think their worst finish is ninth, easily could have won Loudon, easily could have won Watkins Glen with just a little bit different luck. For guys like that to step in I think not only shows the strength of our car chiefs and organization but the guys below them. Because it's more than just the one guy that took our position. Everyone had to step up - it's a domino effect. Jeff Meendering was the guy that obviously had to take a big burden on his shoulders but it's everyone down the line behind him that really made the difference."

Knaus: "Obviously we're very fortunate at Hendrick Motorsports. We've got a lot of people there and they're all pulling in the same direction. When something like this happens, everybody steps up. As everybody knows, Lance McGrew came up to help our guys out and he and Ron Malec, I think, did a phenomenal job. We would have had all top-10 finishes if it hadn't been for the accident in Chicago and the accident in Indianapolis. We were poised to take both of those race tracks so Chicago, I really think we would have won that event. Indianapolis, it was unfortunate to get caught up in that other accident that ultimately took us out of the race. So I think that their record would have been something that would have been tough for me to even duplicate if I was at the race track. So those guys did a tremendous job. It's like Stevie said. It's not just a couple of guys that you see that have to step up, the Jeff Meenderings or Ron Malecs or Lance McGrews, it's the whole group. It's pretty amazing what those guys are capable of doing. It makes me feel good that when the day finally comes I'm ready to move on and do something else or go sell insurance or whatever may be, that we've got the guys who can step into this team and carry it when it needs to be carried."

CHAD, YOU MENTIONED REORGANIZING IN THE SHOP AND YOU LOST BOTH THE CARS IN CHICAGO AND INDY. HOW IS THAT IMPACTING WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO DO IN THE LAST PART OF THE SEASON?

Knaus: "Yes, we're cleaning the fab (fabrication) shop. That's what's going on, that's our reorganization. We've got some people coming in to clean it up and make it like new again. We've done a lot of stuff and there are a lot of things in place. Having a lot of time off allows you to think. Our team has been together for quite some time, we've got some real solid players. When you can sit back and look at it you think: "How can I help this guy do a better job? How can I help this guy achieve the things he wants to do?' We've started to set some of those plans in process. We're looking forward to 2008 and we're looking forward to 2009 with some of our pit crew guys between the 24 and the 48. So there are a lot of things we were able to look at it and put in motion to make everyone more comfortable come the future.

"We wrecked two of my favorite race cars, which really broke my heart. The car we destroyed in Chicago had only finished outside the top five once, I think, in 12 races it ran. So that was disheartening to me. But with the help of everyone at Hendrick Motorsport we actually took that car, which was a pile of rubble when we got it back to HMS, we put a new front clip on it, a new rear clip and a complete body. It will be back at the racetrack in less than a month-and-a-week's time as it's going to Fontana to race. We built to be just the same way it was, but we're racers, we make things a little bit better every time we touch them."

IT HAD TO BE FRUSTRATING. NOT BEING AT THE RACETRACK WHEN YOUR GUYS ARE OUT THERE.

Letarte: "It's very frustrating. I'm fortunate enough to have two children. It's kinda like watching your kid play a sport, or play a game, you want to help him, but you can't. You have to let him learn on his own. With us, I can do everything I can Monday through Thursday to prepare them, give them my notes, give them my ideas, this is how the last race went, this is how the next race might go - but when they leave and come out to the racetrack, they're kinda on their own. People make all this about communications, this and that, (but) this is way too competitive a sport. The only way this can be handled is to be handled at the racetrack by really elite guys. I thought they did a great job. I'm impressed. At Watkins Glen, I don't think they could have called a better race. The ending was unfortunate, but those things happen. I think they could have won Loudon. We had very poor cars in practice a couple of weeks, but they did a wonderful job of getting them good on Sundays. I don't think I could have asked for more out of the group. Like Chad, I'm a little nervous how we're going to run here as they set such a high example, I want to make sure that I can back that up over the next couple of weeks."

Knaus: "I'm not going to lie to you, it's tough. I've never done anything else my whole life. Steve's in the same boat. I've never done anything else. In 24, 25 years of racing I've been gone every weekend, every week I'm gone somewhere else, some other town going racing. When you instill that kind of competitive nature into your blood, it's kinda difficult to unplug yourself. But it's what happens, you just have to deal with it. I didn't enjoy it, that's for sure. It's good to be back, that's for sure."

WHAT WAS THE MOST FRUSTRATING TIME WHILE YOU WERE AWAY, AND HOW ARE YOU GOING TO EASE BACK INTO YOUR TEAM?

Knaus: "To be honest the most frustrating time for me was when the ruling came down. I was extremely disappointed. Other than that, if you sit there and dwell on it, you're not going to be productive. We found out what the penalty was, or sentence (whatever you want to call it - man, it seemed like a sentence), when they give you that that was the most frustrating time throughout the whole suspension period because the rest of the time it's head down, trying to dig, thinking with the guys and trying to make it work."

Letarte: "I don't think there's one specific time. I mean it sounds bad but you can't really worry about it. What's done is done. You learn that in racing. I mean you go and have a wonderful car and wreck, well if you carry that to the next week you perform about half as well as you should have. So we went to Sonoma, we had our issues in Sonoma. We moved on to the next race. We weren't there but that doesn't mean we didn't work. It didn't mean we tried to get cars any better. We sent the best people that we thought we had at the company and we worked on other things within the company. We have 80 something employees and I don't know how many cars and there's always something to be done so we just put our focus other places. To get grumpy or to sulk or to complain, that really does no good. All you're going to do then is not run as well so you just take your effort, put it where it can be applied, make sure you educate the people that are coming to do your job and wait for th e six weeks to come and go."

IS IT GOING TO BE DIFFICULT TO FIT BACK IN?

Letarte: "I don't think so. This sport's changed a lot. The seven or eight or nine guys you bring on the road now, they're very professional guys. It's not a bunch of good friends or bunch of mechanics you put together. It's an assembled team. It's no different than a football or baseball team. They're all here for a specific reason and I think they've welcomed us back with open arms. I think they know what we're trying to do in four races and when we start the Chase so I think if you ease back into it you're just prolonging your steps. I think you need to jump back in with both feet and go like you never were gone."

DO YOU FEEL YOUR PENALTY WAS HARSHER THAN TONY EURY, JR.'S WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO BE ON THE TRACK PREMISES?

Letarte: "I mean, I don't really know. They are what they are. I mean it's all what you do with it. I would say we performed very well without me there so I don't think there was a big difference. I think we got a lot done at the shop so I'm not too worried about it. I've kind of let the last six weeks go. We brought a brand new body car. We're bringing a brand new car to Fontana so there's been advantages to it. I'm kind of with Chad. Did I enjoy it? No. Did I think it was a good thing for our team? No, but if you take the positives out of it, it's going to be a growing experience for everybody."

ON THE BREAK GIVING HIM AN OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE AND AT WHAT POINT DOES HE START THINKING ABOUT MORE OF A MANAGERIAL POSITION THAN A CREW CHIEF:

Knaus: "Geez, I have no idea. I got to make a hell of a lot more money before I can think about that (laughs). I don't see it anytime soon. I'm obviously contracted through 2010, which as everybody knows, I'm hoping we win three more championships at least throughout that span. One day who knows what's going to happen but right now that's not even on the radar. Right now I want to go out and win championships, win races and try to make this 48 team the dynasty that it has the potential to be."

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE EMOTIONS YOU FEEL? DO YOU FEEL PERSECUTED, EMBARRASSED OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT WAS UNJUSTIFIED?

Knaus: "I'm sorry for what happened but for the reason that it happened I'm not sorry because what we did was not something that we thought was bad. We didn't feel like we were breaking the rules. We've said that a million times. I stand by that, that's the case. We've heard it from top to bottom from the highest at HMS to the drivers to anybody else to ourselves. We don't feel like that what we did was anything wrong. In NASCAR's eyes, they feel that we did do something wrong so I don't feel any regret, remorse or anything like that. Am I sorry that I missed the races? Am I sorry that I wasn't there? Absolutely. It's painstaking not being here but regret or remorse, no, that's not even an option."

Letarte: "The biggest thing I've learned through it all is it's over. I'm back at Michigan and it really doesn't matter what's happened the last six weeks. That's kind of how I look into it. To put any more emotion or effort or brain power into it is just wasting my time and my energy on something that doesn't make us go faster on Sunday. When I left Sonoma, we kind of were waiting to see what happened. We got our answers on Tuesday and starting Wednesday we prepared to not be at the race track and move on and this sport moves way too fast to have emotion or think about. If you're asking if I laid awake at night thinking about it, no. It is what it is. I'm a 28-year-old kid who didn't go to college who has a wonderful job and a wonderful profession so it is what it is. I'm not too worried about it. I kind of have bigger goals. I lay awake more at night trying to figure out how we're going to win a championship than I was for not being here for the last six races."

ON THE SUSPENSIONS:

Letarte: "I mean I don't think our infractions are going to change the mindset. I think the sport's changed. I don't think it has anything to do with the two of us sitting here. I think it's way bigger than that. It's the direction the whole sport's going. We accepted it before Somona, we know the direction it's going, it is what is. It's not going to stop us from working at the shop to try to go win every Sunday. As long as our owners, our sponsors, our drivers, our fans, as long as they all support us in whatever we're doing then I'm fine with that."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports