Chad Knaus is a tough man to please. He has won three championships in a row (the only crew chief in history to do so) and looks to be on the verge of a fourth, yet still hasn't reached one of his major goals in racing. Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway may finally change that.
For years Knaus, Johnson, and the No. 48 team have been winning poles, leading laps, amassing wins, leading the points, and winning championships. They have won the "big races" (Daytona, Talladega, Indianapolis, Darlington, Charlotte) as well as most of the others at one time or another.
To be more specific, since beginning to run in the Cup Series full time in 2002, the No. 48 team has never had less than three wins, at least one pole, and twenty top-tens in any season. Nor have they ever finished outside the top five in points.
But they have never achieved perfection. To listen to Knaus, his resume won't be complete until the No. 48 team has what he calls a "perfect weekend." He has been, it seems, obsessed with this "perfect weekend" concept for years.
In two separate articles written by David Poole and David Newton in 2006, Knaus discussed the "perfect weekend."
According to Poole's article in the Charleston Gazette on August 12, 2006, Knaus has been pursuing perfection for years and will not rest easy until he achieves that goal:
After Jimmie Johnson dominated in winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May 2004, crew chief Chad Knaus talked about how it wasn't quite perfect.
"A perfect weekend is something I still want to achieve and we have not been able to do," Knaus said. "I want to go out there in qualifying practice and be fastest, sit on the pole, be fastest in both race practices and win the race. That's a goal I have."
Two weeks earlier in an interview with David Newton for NASCAR.COM, Knaus discussed how they had yet to achieve what seems to be his ultimate goal:
"Until we go out there and we have a perfect weekend will I ever think that we've actually completed any type of task. We haven't done that, and we need to do that where you're fastest in practice, fastest in qualifying and then you win the race."
Since then he has talked about the perfect weekend at various times in interviews and on shows including "NASCAR Performance" and "This Week in NASCAR"—usually when they just miss it by one item on the list.
This weekend, however, Knaus and company might finally reach perfection. On Thursday, Johnson led the first practice with a lap time over one-and-a-half-tenths faster than his teammate Mark Martin. Later that night, he out-qualified Martin by nearly a tenth of a second to sit on the pole.
After the first race practice Friday, Johnson sat atop the leaderboard with a fast lap more than two-tenths of a second faster than, you guessed it, Mark Martin. And in Happy Hour, the No. 48 team once again finished atop the leaderboard when all was said and done. Then, however, they did so by only one-tenth, again over teammate Mark Martin.
So all that remains to complete the perfect weekend, to reach that goal, to complete that task, is to win the race Saturday night in the venue referred to most frequently this decade as "Jimmie's House."
True, he hasn't won there in quite some time, but his performance this weekend as well those of the past few weeks show the team is strong and only getting stronger.
And for the Lowe's team to win at what will most likely be the last NASCAR race held at "Lowe's Motor Speedway" would only be the icing on the cake.
Can they pull it off? If they do, will Knaus finally be satisfied? If he's not, what could his next goal possibly be? A perfect Chase? A perfect year?
Given their track record, the sky does seem to be the only limit for the one they are calling "Superman" and his mastermind crew chief Knaus...
Photo Credit: M Brian Ladner