Chad Knaus. Jimmie Johnson. The names of the two main men on the No. 48 crew may be the most famous in NASCAR today. The duo has won 53 races, five consecutive championships together and don’t look like they plan on slowing down anytime soon. But there is also a black cloud over the team: Knaus’ four suspensions since 2001 (the pair has been together since 2002).
The team has been hailed as one of the best teams in NASCAR history, pulling off a feat that no other team has been able to accomplish since NASCAR’s formation in 1948, by winning five championships in a row, and one of only three drivers to win five or more championships in the Sprint Cup series.
But Knaus’ loophole-finding ways test the limit that people will go before absolutely questioning every accomplishment of the Lowe’s team.
In October at Talladega, Knaus was heard on the radio telling a surprised Jimmie Johnson he had to alter the back of the car if he won the race.
"If we win this race, you have to crack the back of the car," Knaus told Johnson. "Got it?"
"Really?" Johnson replied.
"Yes," Knaus said. "Got it? You don't have to have to hit it hard, you don't have to destroy it. But you've gotta do a donut and you've gotta hit the back end, or somebody's gotta hit you in the ass-end or something. OK?"
That radio conversation was followed just a few months later by a potential game changer for the No. 48 team. After being found with illegal C-posts at the opening inspection in Daytona, NASCAR hit the team hard with penalties. Knaus and the team’s car chief were handed six race suspensions, and the team was handed a point penalty that put their points in the negatives after the first race of the season. The team quickly appealed, but lost the first appeal hearing and will be heading to a final appeal at a date not yet announced.
While Knaus has won an appeal in the past, taking a prior suspension from a two-race suspension to 90 days probation, it is hard to believe that the six-race suspension he faces will be dropped down to a much lighter sentence.
But even if the sentence is dropped by John Middlebrook, NASCAR’s final appeals judge, Johnson’s success may always be questioned due to his crew chief’s actions. With Knaus already having four suspensions in the book and his quest for any loophole, the No. 48 won’t only be remembered in the future as a five-time consecutive championship team, but also a team that constantly pushed the envelope.
It may take years to feel the full effects that the team’s envelope-pushing has on the Johnson-Knaus legacy, but it’s easy to see that people are already drawing their own conclusions about what will happen when people open up the record books and see the No. 48 in both the Champion and Suspension categories.