Homestead: Knaus - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: ARE YOU RUNNING A CONSERVATIVE SET-UP THIS WEEKEND? "There is no conservative set-up. If you have a conservative set-up, you'll go out there and get your butt ...


ARE YOU RUNNING A CONSERVATIVE SET-UP THIS WEEKEND? "There is no conservative set-up. If you have a conservative set-up, you'll go out there and get your butt whipped. You can't have that. You have to go out there with the goal that you're going to run competitive and run in the top 10 and that's what we're trying to do."

HARVICK WENT OUT OF HIS WAY YESTERDAY TO SAY "THEY COULD CRUMBLE; THEY'VE CRUMBLED BEFORE." IS THIS JUST THE BEGINNING OF THE MIND GAMES? "We're just racing. There are no mind games. It's no different than anything we've done in the past. I don't read any of the propaganda stuff that's out there. You guys are going to go back and you're going to write this stuff and it's going to be on TV and I'm not going to read any of it or listen to any of it. I never do. So whatever is said in the media is said in the media. It doesn't ever really get back to me so I really don't care."

DID YOU SLEEP WELL THIS WEEK? HOW DID YOU STOP FROM OVERTHINKING THINGS? "Yeah, I slept great. We've had a great week. I took a half-day off on Wednesday and took a half-day off on Monday. It's been the normal deal. The car has been set aside and ready to go. There really wasn't anything to do."

JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID THAT HIS NUMBER 1 THING IS TO GET THE CAR COMFORTABLE FOR HIMSELF. "BE ONE WITH THE RACE CAR", HE SAID. "Yeah, for sure. And that's something we always try to do is to give him something he can drive. Its 267 laps; 400 miles. A lot of things can happen. The thing we've got to do it just make certain that's we've got a car that'll stay underneath him for that period of time. And if something happens, something happens. If something happens and we don't win, it's not because we crumbled or that anything like that happened. It'll be because of a parts failure or an accident or something like that."

IS IT EASIER TO COME IN HERE AS THE LEADER OR THE CHASER? "I don't know. We've got to do the same thing we did last year. Last year we weren't able to do it. We had a tire issue and we weren't able to pull it off. But if we were able to have run a little bit better, we could have been the ones to win the championship last year but unfortunately we weren't. This year, we're going to go out there and do the same thing that we've done all year long and that's to try to finish in the top 10. And once you get into the top 10 you reassess your goals and try to get into the top five. And if we're able to do that, then we've done our job."

THERE IS A LOT RIDING ON THIS WEEKEND BASED ON WHERE YOU'VE BEEN AND HOW YOU'VE WORKED UP TO THIS. DO YOU GET WOUND UP IN ALL THAT? "Like I said, you guys are the ones who get caught up in all that stuff. We come to the race track every week to try to run as competitive as we can and to represent Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports the best we can. We do a very good job of that, I feel. We've run competitive week in and week out. And that's what we need to do. If we don't pull this off, it's not that big a deal. We're going to come back next year and we're going to try it again. And if we don't do it next year, we'll try it the year after that and that's all there is to it. This is not a make or break situation. This isn't going to tear our team apart if we don't win the championship."

A LOT OF THE PRESSURE FALLS ON THE CREW CHIEF AND IT IS A VERY HARD JOB. AND IT'S EASY TO SAY IF WE DON'T GET IT, WE DON'T GET IT. BUT IT'S BEEN A LONG SEASON GETTING HERE "Yeah, but it's not like we've worked harder than anybody else. There are a lot of guys who aren't in the top 10. Look at Smoke and the No. 20 car. Are you saying those guys didn't work as hard as we did? Sure they did. You know? Yeah, we want to win the championship. We'll do everything in our power. But if we don't, it's not going to be life threatening. There are a lot more important things in life than racing and we're going to go out there and do the best we can to try to win the championship. And if we don't pull it off, I'm not going to lose fingers or anything over it. We'll be fine."

OVER THE SUMMER YOU WERE THINKING OF DOING SOMETHING ELSE. HAS IT EVER CROSSED YOUR MIND TO MAYBE DO SOME TV? "No, not at all. Once again, that's you guys talking. You guys come up with some good stuff. I don't know where you dream this stuff up. But, no. I'm a racer. Right now, that's what I'm going to do. I've wanted to race and I've wanted to be a crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports since 1993. It was a dream come true when Mr. Hendrick and Brian Whitesell called me up in 2001 and asked me to come back and be crew chief for Jimmie Johnson. And I'm leaving the dream right now. By any stretch of the imagination, there is nothing else I'd rather do. And that's what I want to continue doing. I'm slated to do it for a few more years, so I think we're all good."

IS YOUR APPROACH TO THE CHASE DIFFERENT THIS YEAR? "We have taken a different mindset. I've put a lot more responsibility on Ron Malec, my car chief, and Greg Ives, my engineer, to help pull in data. I'm making a lot of the staff back at the shop work a little harder than they have in the past. It used to be I took a lot of it. I tried to bear all of the responsibility and that's not something you can do. You have to rely upon your team in any industry to be successful - whether that's racing or if you're a store manager at Lowe's. You've got a group of people that you count on and you have to rely on those people to do their jobs or you're not going to be successful. That's one thing that we did this year was to spread the load a little be more across the guys and made them a little bit more responsible for what they've got to do and it's definitely paid dividends."

WHY DID YOU CHANGE? "I just did it. I decided it last year. At the end of last year, I was pretty much spent. I was spent before we got to the final 10 races and I knew that had a lot to do with what we did in the last 10 races and why we didn't perform up to our potential. I made it a goal of myself to take a little bit more time off and relax this year. I didn't take a hell of a lot of time off, but I took a couple of half days here and there and that's more than I've done in the past."

WHEN YOU WERE SUSPENDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR, WERE YOU WORRIED AT THE TIME IT WOULD DERAIL ALL OF YOUR HOPES? WHY DIDN'T IT? "Yeah, of course I was concerned about that. It wasn't going to derail all of my hopes. No matter what happened, we were still going to come back the next year. But I was concerned after all that stuff went down that we would have a big hill to try to overcome when I came back. And Ron Malec did a great job of pulling the guys together and getting the thing done. Darian Grubb did a good job. Pulling that thing together and running as well as they did made it easy for when I got back to set the pace for the rest of the year."

DID YOU MAKE ALL THOSE CHANGES BECAUSE OF THE SUSPENSION? "No, the suspension had nothing to do with it. This was all the stuff that was put into place well before the suspension took place."

ONCE YOU WERE SUSPENDED, DID YOU TAKE A STEP BACK AT ALL? "No, not at all. That had nothing to do with it. That's the big story that everybody is trying to play up to, but that's not how it went down. You can talk to anybody on the team. We sat down well before the season ever began and laid out a plan of how things were going to happen and that just kick-started it."

HOW MUCH OF THESE CHANGES IN YOU HAVE HELPED THE TEAM GET TO THIS POINT NOW WHERE IT'S FINALLY RIGHT THERE? "I think it's helped us a lot. It's made us a lot stronger as a team for sure. It's bonded us as well. Making those guys buy into the deal a little bit more with their own stock has created a little bit more self-assurance and made them more positive of what it is they've got to do. No matter how we've approached it, we've always been in the championship battle. This has just made it stronger once we got into the championship battle."

WAS IT DIFFICULT TO GIVE UP SOME OF THE RESPONSIBILITIES? "Oh yeah, for sure. When you live, eat, sleep, and breathe this deal, that's all I care about. When you have to sit back and give up and realize that maybe you need to change your coaching and the way you go about running an organization. You have to think about it and it's tough at times. But I knew deep down from conversations I had with Mr. Hendrick, that he's not as successful as he is for no reason. After talking to him and understanding where it was that I was, I knew he had to make a change. And we changed it and now here we are. We'll see what happens."

HOW DO YOU LEAD YOUR DRIVER AND TEAM INTO THE WEEKEND? "Last week I called them all together because I made them burritos for breakfast. So we got in the truck and I gave them a bunch of burritos. So I don't know. Maybe I'll make them a fruit cup or something. We'll see what happens.

"There is nothing going on here that's any different than any other weekend. We're really approaching this weekend that we need to go out there and run in the top 10 - top five if the opportunity presents itself. Hell, if we can win this race, that's what we want to do. But that's all there is to it. The pressure that gets put on people is usually from the outside. If you let the outside people pressure you, then you're going to start to feel it. Right now, I hate to say it, but we're not letting you guys pressure us."

JIMMIE SAID HE'D TRADE ALL HIS WINS FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU? "We've had some pretty awesome victories and some good times but to win the championship puts you in a very elite group. And the group of people that we compete with are the best in the business. I'm privileged every day when I walk into work because there are only about 55 people in the world that have my job. And that makes me feel pretty good. So if I can win the championship and be the champion of all the crew chiefs in the world out there, then it would make me very proud."

WILL THAT IMPROVE YOUR STATUS IN THE GARAGE AMONG THE OTHER CREW CHIEFS? "Whatever I've established for myself at this point - good, bad, or indifferent at this point - is probably what I'm stuck with for the rest of my life."

DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE FROM THE MEDIA? "No. I don't feel any pressure. I think the media tries to stir the controversy and stir the pressure. It's like when they come over and tell us something another driver has said. I think in our circle we're pretty solid and we're pretty self-assured about what we can do and we know that if we go out there and do what we need to do, then we're fine."

HOW WAS THIS SEASON DIFFERENT FOR YOU? "It was a good season, I really do. It was a great year. We ran very competitively. We had a very fruitful season obviously, by winning the Daytona 500 and Brickyard, the All-Star race and Martinsville and Talladega. We've had some great races and it was a lot of fun. It was a year when everybody came into their own. Jimmie has matured an awful lot this year - especially in the last 10 races. It's been a growing season for us. And I think we'll have many more seasons like this."

HOW DO YOU APPROCH THIS WEEKEND KNOWING THAT IF YOU FINISH 12TH OR BETTER, YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "You're always aware of what's going on. We've been aware of the points system since the Chase started. I'd love to be the guy to win the race and the championship in the same day, but you don't know if it's going to happen. And right now, the most important is to win the championship. But if the victory is there and presents itself we're going to try to take it."

IS THERE ANY CERTAIN PLACE YOU NEED TO QUALIFY TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN ON SUNDAY? "I'd love to be on the pole. If we can qualify in the top 10, that's our goal week in and week out. We do a pretty good job of that. I think our qualifying average for the year is probably about 9.5 and that's pretty respectable if we can maintain that."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports