Despite back-to-back wins, Chad Knaus is far from satisfied

The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports may have fallen behind but the six-time Sprint Cup champs are heating up for a strong summer run

Despite back-to-back wins, Chad Knaus is far from satisfied

Chad Knaus did not mince words on Sunday, “We’re not where we need to be.”

Knowing Knaus’ competitive nature, that’s not surprising.

Even after Jimmie Johnson posted consecutive victories at Dover International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway – following an 11-race drought -- Knaus is seldom satisfied.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion crew chief conceded that the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team’s focus on the 2013 title detracted from this year’s initial effort.

In simple terms, Knaus fell behind.

Chad Knaus
Chad Knaus

Photo by: Getty Images

“I didn't care about anything that we were doing to prepare for 2014,” Knaus said. “It was the furthest thing in my mind for the last three months of last year.

“We're still behind. I think we're behind on just a little bit of everything...When you are fortunate enough to battle for a championship, your main focus goes solely on trying to win a championship...we lost focus on 2014.

"But that's just inherent. That's what happens because you have to focus on the goal that's directly in front of you.”

Yet given the strength of this season’s champion contenders, the weaknesses of the No. 48 team – however slight in comparison to other crews in the Cup garage – seemed more stark than ever.

And that wasn’t lost on Knaus.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

The No. 48 was not only losing to other organizations but to teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon and HMS’ technical partner -- Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who have access to the same equipment.

“When you have guys like the Penske guys who were basically out of the championship hunt, when you have a guy like Rodney Childers who's an amazing crew chief, a great crew chief, you give him six months off to where all he has to do is prepare for the next season, he'd better come out guns blazing, especially when he works for Kevin Harvick,” Knaus said.

“The further we get into the season, the more I think that that'll level back off.”

Knaus says the team has “a long ways to go yet to understand exactly what we need” given the new rules package for the Generation 6 cars which “change the way you approach a race car”. He acknowledged that the advantages Hendrick discovered last year “were minimized” and affected the comfortable feel Johnson experienced with his cars.

Still, the radio exchange after Johnson took the checkered flag revealed that Knaus may have already solved the problem.

“I told you, you were going to like that race car,” Knaus said.

“Yeah, man, what a ride,” Johnson replied.

Knaus enlisted the help of his fellow Hendrick teammates and his own squad to return to championship form.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

“We've worked really hard,” Knaus said. “When we do get behind, which we feel like we've been just a pinch behind this year, everybody digs down really, really deep and they work hard, from the pit crew, from the guys that hang the bodies to the guys that build the chassis to the guys that build the engines and they try to find an advantage.

“When we do finally start to hit our stride, all those things that everybody worked on starts to culminate, and we can get out there and really start to make things happen. I think we're seeing a lot of the fruit of a lot of people's labor right now at the racetrack.” Johnson, who has jumped from seventh in the point standings to fourth in the last two races, agrees.

“We're now at a point where we've identified areas to produce speed and bringing new versions and new cars to the track,” Johnson said. “What we learned here is good and it's going to help change our system, and then Pocono, Indy, those ‑‑ I know Chad is working hard on our Indy race car. We should have a nice one there, too.”

Knaus admits that Pocono Raceway, where the tour will race this weekend, is his favorite track due to the challenges of devising the car’s set up for three distinct corners. Johnson has three wins at the ‘Tricky Triangle’ and a series-best average finish of 8.8.

Before heading to Pocono, the team will test at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and perform the Goodyear tire test at Chicagoland Speedway next week – one of just five tracks where the No 48 crew has not visited victory lane. Despite their recent success, Knaus believes, “we've still got to room to grow.”

“I'm looking forward to the next series of race cars that we build at Hendrick Motorsports. I'm excited about that. I feel like if the 4 car (Harvick) didn't have the troubles that they would have had today, they would have been a serious threat. So we need to continue to work to try to minimize those threats.

“But we're close. We're definitely close. We had solid pit stops (on Sunday). They needed to be a little bit better. We had a good race car today. It needs to be a bit better. So I think if we can start digging in a little bit deeper we'll finally have what we want when we get to about September time.”

From a personal standpoint, Knaus, who appeared only weeks ago to be ready for another ‘milk and cookies ‘sit-down with Rick Hendrick, feels he’s “at the best point in my life.”

And that might be a greater threat for his competition.

2013 champion Jimmie Johnson with crew chief Chad Knaus
2013 champion Jimmie Johnson with crew chief Chad Knaus

Photo by: Getty Images

“If you ask Jimmie, I was a jerk three weeks ago,” Knaus said. “I've been very fortunate to have been in this sport for a long time. I've seen it grow and change, and it's been a weird circuitous route to get to where we are now, but quite honestly, I've never been happier in my life with my personal life, my performance at the racetrack, what we've got going on, and Jimmie has helped a lot with that.

“So has Mr. Hendrick as far as making me understand that I've got to take time away from the facility and understand that there's life outside of motorsports. I've tried for a long time to deny that fact, but I'm really, really enjoying it all the way around. It's fun…It's busy as ever, but we're in a good spot right now. Everything is great.”

shares
comments
Pit road speeding penalty helps drop Danica to 23rd at Dover
Previous article

Pit road speeding penalty helps drop Danica to 23rd at Dover

Next article

Ten drivers have won races, prompting question of 'Who's Next?

Ten drivers have won races, prompting question of 'Who's Next?
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Prime

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, but his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines...

NASCAR Cup
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Prime

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR Cup
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Prime

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR Cup
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Prime

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organization - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR Cup
Aug 31, 2021
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021