What Would Happen if Jimmie Johnson Lost Crew Chief Chad Knaus?
Rumors in NASCAR are like peanut butter and jelly, they just go hand in hand. People wonder if something they hear is actually true, or if it's just some nonsense that certain people are stirring up.
We are only six races into the 2010 season, and rumors are already stirring about what may happen at the end of this season. Some are even looking ahead at the 2011 season.
One I remember was that Chad Knaus had yet to sign a new contract with Hendrick Motorsports. Others were saying he's actually working for Hendrick right now without a contract, saying they're focusing on racing and not negotiations.
While I don't believe Knaus would ever leave the four-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, it does make you wonder.
Think about it, what would happen if after this year Chad Knaus didn't return to the No. 48 and went elsewhere? Who would take his spot? Where would Knaus go? Would Johnson suffer?
All are good questions, so let's look at this from all directions.
First, where exactly would Knaus go? He's probably the smartest and the most cunning crew chief in the garage area. He could practically choose teams out of a hat and he'd turn them around.
His ability to make the right calls for adjustments and track position are simply incredible. Knaus has put Johnson in the best spot and let his driver do the work. Look at what he was able to do at Las Vegas against his teammate, Jeff Gordon. The No. 24 was the best car, but Knaus made the best call.
It's those kind of credentials that any Sprint Cup team would kill for.
Then comes the idea of who would take the spot on the No. 48 war wagon. It's hard to find a great driver and crew chief combination in today's NASCAR. It's not like we'll see another combination like Dale Inman and Richard Petty. Long term driver-crew chief runs are hard to come by.
In today's age, there are two combinations besides Johnson and Knaus that stand out the most. First had to be Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham.
When those two were paired up, it was simply magic. The "Rainbow Warriors" dominated the late 1990s in wins and championships. Eventually, Evernham wanted more and left in 1999 to pursue bringing Dodge back to NASCAR.
Since then, Gordon went through two more crew chiefs. First was Robby Loomis, who led Gordon to the 2001 title. But, after failing to make the Chase in 2005, Loomis left for his old employer at Petty Enterprises. Then, in stepped current crew chief Steve Letarte.
Although he hasn't led Gordon to a championship, he has helped bring Gordon back to that strong run he's had.
The other combination in this modern era had to be Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli. These two couldn't fail at how well they ran. Two championships, 33 wins and countless top-five finishes showed he became the top driver at Joe Gibbs Racing.
But Stewart wanted to go in his own direction. Now, he's his own boss at Stewart-Haas Racing, while Zipadelli has remained at Gibbs with Joey Logano.
At the moment, Johnson and Knaus are the longest-tenured driver and crew chief combination in Sprint Cup. These two have been together for eight years, and have proven to be the toughest to beat when it comes to the Chase.
Knaus wouldn't leave when everything is going exactly right.
Finally, how would Johnson fair when it comes to performance if Knaus did leave? That answer is simple, it'd be a struggle.
Sure, he's dealt with Knaus getting suspended for weeks and still won races. He won the 2006 Daytona 500 while Knaus was sitting at home for violating the rules.
But, the car was already set up by Knaus for the race, so when Darian Grubb stepped in during his absence, he already knew the car would be good. Knaus already put the work in to make the car run well at the track. All Grubb had to do was adjust the car so Johnson could stay out front in competition.
If Knaus left, that means someone else would have to make the decisions on adjustments during the race. It also means Johnson would have to start a new relationship and communication method.
We've already seen how difficult it is for some drivers when it's a new crew chief on the pit box. Who's to say Johnson wouldn't have the same troubles.
Of course, all this is just wishful thinking. The fact of the matter is Knaus would not want to leave Johnson. Why would he?
He led Johnson to his first win just nine races into his first season. He and Johnson have not missed the Chase, actually never finishing outside the top-five.
There is also the fact that he and Johnson have won four consecutive championships. I really doubt if he would want to leave following a possible fifth straight.
The rumor mill in NASCAR will always be here, and the biggest names are always involved. It was rumored before the season that Danica Patrick would come to NASCAR, and it turned out to be the truth.
But, in this case, there's no indication that Knaus is going anywhere. The No. 48 is secure and will not be having any changes anytime soon.
Knaus is already at the top of this sport, why would he want to go anywhere else?
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