Chad Knaus: The Man, the Myth, the Legend in the Making
First of all, I'm a fan of Chad Knaus. When Dale Jr. moved to Hendrick Motorsports I was a happy camper! Junior and Chad racing under the same owner. (And yeah, Chad's driver isn't a slouch in the driving department either.)
We all know Chad is a fan of the gray area. After all, he did end up taking a few NASCAR enforced vacations in the last couple of years. But then his team also won back-to-back championships.
Call him a cheater, call him an innovator, call him what you want—the man is a genius! He can take a junk car and make it good—partly due to his genius self, and partly due to his very good driver. Chad is of course the man that had to have NASCAR institute a new rule for shocks a few years ago.
Here are some things you may or may not know about Chad "the man" Knaus.
He's a total work-aholic! In an article on USAtoday.com Chad talks about going to Aspen to ski shortly after winning the first Nextel Cup Championship in 2007. His long-time girlfriend says he was on the phone at 4:00 AM talking to the guys on the crew.
Rick Hendrick was also quoted as saying in the article, "He's never going to take a week off. He'd go crazy..."
When he was on suspension he spent every waking hour in the shop working on the car. Even when he took a trip while serving his six-week suspension he still worked on notes for the car from the Bahamas.
He got his first taste of being a crew chief when he was 14! He was the crew chief for his father, racer John Knaus. The two of them won the Rockford Speedway Championship series. They also finished second in the Winston Racing Series and won the Great Northern Series Championship. They won seven track championships together.
(I don't know about you, but when I was 14, I was busy drooling over Joey Lawrence and Jonathan Brandis and trying to be young and dumb!
In 1991 he packed his bags and headed south to North Carolina to pursue a job in NASCAR. He got a job with Stanley Smith's stock car team. Then in 1993 he began working for Hendrick Motorsports, working for the 24 team under crew chief Ray Evernham.
He went from general fabricator to managing the entire body construction of the 24 team. He also served as a tire changer on the No. 24 team, and they won the championships in 1995 and 1997.
After the 1997 championship season he left HMS and went to work at DEI. He was the car chief for the one car and worked with Steve Park and later DW (who drove the car after Park was injured and couldn't drive).
In 1998 he went to Tyler Jet Motorsports, but that was nothing. In 1999 Chad's buddy Ray Evernham called him up and invited him to come work for him and be in charge of the Dodge Development team. Chad, being the genius that he is, quickly agreed to this.
He tested with the team and Melling Racing with Stacy Compton. The two of them did two years of test sessions, and in 2001 Chad got his chance to be a Winston (now Sprint Cup) Crew Chief. He sat on Compton's pit box calling the shots.
His work as Compton's crew chief led him to receive a phone call from Rick Hendrick. He was asked to come crew chief for his new team—the No. 48 team with Jimmie Johnson as the driver. So in 2002 he donned his Lowe's Racing fire-suit and hasn't looked back since.
Chad and Jimmie's partnership makes for one of the longest running driver/crew chief teams in the Sprint Cup Series today. Their team record is one that speaks for itself: back-to-back championships, multiple top fives and top 10s.
Here's a peak at what Chad and Jimmie have accomplished in their time together:
•In 2002 the rookie team earned three wins, six top fives, 21 top 10s, and four Bud Pole Awards. Johnson became the first rookie in cup series history to lead the point series (he ended up finishing fifth overall).
He also finished second in the Rookie of the Year contest to Penske Racing's Ryan Newman. Chad being no slouch took home the inaugural IRWIN Crew Chief of the Year award.
•In 2003 the No. 48 team was able to avoid the sophomore slump. The ended the season with three victories, 14 top fives, and 20 top 10s. They finished the season second to Matt Kenseth in the points standings.
•2004 started off slowly for the team. But the team rebounded and won the fifth race of the season at Darlington Raceway. They won the Coke 600 and at Poccono.
They had a late season victory in Martinsville Virginia, but this was marred by the tragic loss of Ricky Hendrick and Rick's brother and nieces who were all on a plane bound for Martinsville. There was no celebration that week.
The next week, though, the No. 48 team hitched up their britches and had an emotional win in Atlanta. (I still get teary eyed when I see footage from the Atlanta '04 race).
They ended up finishing the 2004 season again in second place just eight...EIGHT...points behind Kurt Busch. (Nope, still not bitter about that at all. Nope, totally good with Kurt winning.)
•2005 wasn't a great season for Chad and the boys. They ended up finishing the points in fifth place. They had four wins, one pole, 13 top fives, and 22 top 10s. (I think there are several teams out there that would love to have a not so great season like that one, though.)
•2006 was a great year for the team. Chad and Jimmie won their first Nextel Cup Championship with five wins, 13 top fives, and 24 top 10s.
•2007—well, that's second verse same as the first only better! 2007 can only be described as their best season to date. It was the year of HMS domination and No. 48 team domination. Chad and his team took home their second championship with a series best 10 wins!
•2008 hasn't exactly been a great year for Chad and his team, but it hasn't been horrible either. They are off to a slow start, but I think Mr. Knaus (who has been said to be a great poker player) has yet to show his hand. I think he's still got an ace in the hole.
Whatever happens this season, it's safe to say that the dynamic duo of Knaus and Johnson is here to stay. They will be contenders in this year's Chase for the Championship, and they will be contenders for years to come.
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