NASCAR's Chad Knaus: The Mastermind Behind Jimmie Johnson's Championship Reign

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst INovember 16, 2010

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 13:  Chad Knaus, crew cheif of the the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson (not pictured) works on a laptop in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 13, 2010 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

The year was 1985, and school was just about to let out for summer vacation, a time of the year that all young people have always looked forward to.

Summer to most of them meant going to visit distant relatives, maybe some camping, going to the movies with some of your friends or even an amusement park or two.

Summer can also be a time when some youngsters look for a job to put extra cash in their pockets. But to a 14-year-old native of Rockford, IL, it meant spending his weekends, helping his dad win his first Great Northern Series championship.

This father and son combination would also finish second in the Winston Racing series. What a joy it must have been for this young man’s dad to see and hear his son in the box during his championship season.

The son grew up around the racetracks helping his father race against the likes of Mark Martin, Alan Kulwicki, Rusty Wallace and Dick Trickle, while never realizing that someday his son might be named amongst some of the best crew chiefs that NASCAR has ever seen.

Twenty-five years later as the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship is only one race away from crowning the 2010 champion, and the NASCAR history books could very easily be rewritten. 

Who is this crew chief that started winning championships at an age when most young boys were busy chasing girls and probably worried more about staying away from their own parents, then spending all weekend with them?

Chad Anthony Knaus has exemplified in today’s racing world what crew chiefs for years have tried to master by putting their drivers in victory lane.

Knaus has brought with him over 25 years of experience, dating back to a time when most teenagers were still having trouble doing their everyday chores, but yet to this young man, his chore carried a huge responsibility that most men twice his age couldn’t handle, which was helping his dad win auto racing championships.

Knaus has taken the job of a crew chief to whole new level and has shown the most effective way to get the most out of his driver with the humbleness of letting the racing world know that it’s the driver who is most important.

Behind every great driver is the mastermind of the whole operation, and they are the backbone of the team since they are also the ones who carry the brunt of how their driver performs.

What Knaus has done, since he got his first job back in 2001 while sitting in the box for Stacey Compton, is shown the racing world that he belonged among some of the best in the business, and it’s his strategy that gets tested week after week, race after race.

Knaus started his Winston cup career with the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team, which was led by then crew Chief Ray Evernham.

Knaus was the team fabricator, but then quickly moved up to the chassis and body manager and eventually would move into the role of a tire changer on the “Rainbow warriors” pit crew, helping to lead the team to championships in 1995 and 1997.

Knaus felt that his calling was more than just working on a pit team, so he left HMS and had a short stint with D.E.I. working as a car chief for Steve Park.

From there Knaus would once again get teamed up with Ray Evernham, after Evernham bought his own race team in 2000.

Knaus knew that his heart was still with the Hendricks organization and in 2002; he was offered the job of crew chief for Rick Hendricks up and coming driver...Jimmie Johnson.

In his first season with the No. 48 team, Knaus earned, “The Crew Chief of the Year” award, even though Johnson lost the “Rookie of the Year” award to Penske driver Ryan Newman.

Controversy is no stranger to Knaus and company, and it was back in 2007 during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Speedway, when he and Steve Letarte were both found in violation of a pair of out of shape fenders by NASCAR, and they were both fined and suspended a total of six races each.

Ever since Knaus was caught stretching the rules a bit, he has been tabbed by a lot of today’s NASCAR fans, as a crew chief that will go to any length to bend the rules to his liking.

Knaus and Johnson have had more than their share of success, by winning races using pit strategy, fuel mileage and an occasional bump here and there, and of course the most important tool that any winning team must have...communication.

The way these two communicate, before and during the race, exemplifies how championship teams are supposed to be run.

Knaus has shown throughout his NASCAR career that he does belong beside some of the great crew chiefs of the past, and in today’s modern racing era, he has taken a front row seat to greatness, and has set a new standard that all young crew chiefs could learn from.

With one race left, its time recognize and give credit to the man who not only helped Johnson reach his potential but also the man who works long hours to make sure that his driver has the tools to win races, and championships. 

How much faith does his driver have going into Homestead this Sunday?

“I know that with Chad [Knaus] on the box, we're going to work on a strategy and hopefully find an upper hand somewhere, somehow. The first goal is to have enough speed to run away from them, not worry about it. If not, you have to back up and punt and figure out what to do from there."