What makes the Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus partnership so prolific in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series?
It's simple, folks. You take the vast resources of Hendrick Motorsports and put them behind a couple of guys who over the years have learned to communicate, work together with dogged determination and always remain on the lookout for changes to improve the overall performance of the team, and you have the six-time championship tandem of driver Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.
Oh, and then there is the wind. You've got to be able to read that and use it to your advantage, too.
So if you want to truly understand the magic that has become Johnson-Knaus, just listen to the story Knaus told the media in the No. 48 Chevrolet's post-race championship news conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway after locking up the latest championship.
It's a little long, but worth the punch-line.
"Jimmie does a good job of understanding the car," Knaus said. "When I say that, he doesn't know a damn thing about setup, but he understands what the car is doing.
"He can feel the car. He can be one with the car. I know that sounds foolish; it sounds weird. He says the craziest things. He feels a bump here, a gust of wind there."
And when Johnson feels the wind, well, Knaus insists that his driver knows how to use it to their team's vast, and highly unique advantage.
"We were in Dover a few years ago -- a lot of years ago now -- and we were just having a great race," Knaus said. "We won the race. We were sitting there in a (Hendrick Motorsports) team debrief, and (Johnson) was talking about how going into Turn 1, there's this little gap in the stands. He felt like the wind coming through that gap in the stands was planting the nose and making the car turn down in the corner."
"Robbie Loomis was crew chief of the 24 (of driver Jeff Gordon). He looked over at me and said (of Johnson), 'Is he just bat-shit crazy?' "
Can Jimmie Johnson really "read the wind" at certain tracks?
No, Johnson was not then and is not today. At least the man he must communicate with atop the 48 pit box doesn't think so. He just thinks his driver is bat-crap good.
"Let me tell you something: it was true," Knaus said of Johnson's theory about the wind at Dover that day. "We had a huge wind coming through the gaping hole in the grandstands the whole day, and Jimmie picked it up. He said, 'Man, I think the wind is blowing right there. If I come in there right, the wind is turning the car right for me.'"
"You don't have a lot of guys who can do that. You just don't. Jimmie can do it. Does he do it every time? No. But there are certain times at certain tracks where he can make things happen that other drivers just really can't."
Furthermore, whereas other drivers oftentimes struggle to communicate to their crew chiefs what their car is doing in even the simplest terms, Johnson and Knaus remain in perfect sync with one another. Sort of like the wind and the rain, or maybe the wind and the sun. It probably depends on the day and the sometimes-prickly Knaus' mood.
So there you have it. It sounds like Johnson and Knaus have dual roles locked down if actor Nicholas Cage ever stars in a sequel to the 2002 movie Windtalkers—and that the rest of the Sprint Cup field trying to chase this duo down have one more hard-to-figure thing to worry about heading into next season.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes for this article were obtained first-hand by the writer.
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