I really couldn’t tell you why, but Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus haven’t been given the credit they deserve for their four straight championships.
If the Yankees won four straight World Series or the Bears won four straight Super Bowls, they would be the biggest marketing powerhouse in the history of sports.
But, when it comes to marketing surveys, Budweiser is still the most recognized sponsor in NASCAR, with Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson still but a blip.
I suppose they do have a few things working against them:
The Chase, which people use to claim that Johnson, Knaus, and team don’t have to be good in all 36 races, just the last 10. Those other 26 don’t even really matter, do they?
Hendrick Motorsports. I mean, it’s easy to win the Sprint Cup Championship when you’re driving for the best organization in motorsports, right?
Even Chad Knaus is able to steal some of Jimmie’s thunder—Kurt Bush remarked at Jimmie’s Roast in Las Vegas that Jimmie really isn’t very good, and proposed a new Chase format where all the Chase drivers picked one race out of a hat where they get Chad Knaus as their crew chief.
What I want to look at, however, is whether Jimmie and Chad can win at another organization apart from Hendrick Motorsports.
I think they can.
Jimmie Johnson is one of the most focused drivers in the field.
He studies the track, the car, what other drivers are doing, and what he can do differently with a level of dedication and intensity admired by the rest of the drivers.
Even Mark Martin admitted Johnson is better than him in this regard.
Chad Knaus obviously has the technical expertise to hack it with any team, but this attribute is shared by most crew chiefs.
What makes Knaus different is his eye for detail and his knack for planning.
Not one aspect of the car misses being catalogued in triplicate in Chad’s brain, and he’s been known even to grind and smooth even the smallest of bolts on the underside of the car to make it more aerodynamic.
What Chad Knaus does, others copy.
Johnson and Knaus, together, have that one X-factor that all drivers and crew chiefs look for: chemistry.
As we’ve seen, you can’t just throw any driver and any engineer together and make it a good driver-crew chief combo.
The driver and crew chief must almost be married to each other to make it work.
This chemistry is one of the most important factors because, let’s face it, most of the crew chiefs know as much as all the other crew chiefs (with a few exceptions).
Jack Roush and Richard Childress have been known to upheave their entire organizations to seek this chemistry when it is lacking.
(And could you imagine being married to Chad Knaus? Re-grouting the tub every other week because it’s not smooth enough, constantly tearing apart the garage door opener to make the drivetrain more efficient, or running the family Impala out of gas one block from the driveway because he really thought they could make it? What about moving the baby seats around to redistribute the weight? Don’t even get me started on the lawnmower.)
That’s the X-Factor, and that’s what makes Chad and Jimmie good together.
With Jimmie Johnson’s drive (no pun intended) and Chad Knaus’ eye for detail, the two could go anywhere.
But will they? As you can surmise, probably not.
Hendrick has resources no other team has, and a crew chief like Knaus spoils himself with that.
Jimmie, on the other hand, can apply his talent to whatever car Knaus prepares for him, because he’s developed a feel for them and he likes them.
Unless the two mutually decide they want a new challenge, and their contracts at Hendrick end at the same time, it’s doubtful they’ll attempt to dominate with another team.
But it’s fun to imagine, right?