Many of the NASCAR pundits have already declared the 2008 season as being over. Jimmie Johnson will win his 3rd straight title, and it's all over but the crying, even though there are still 4 races to go. I'm not so sure about that, but it's obvious that Jimmie and the 48 team are going to be very tough to beat in 2008. Just like 2007, and to a certain degree, 2006.
Jimmie Johnson has earned a reputation as a driver who can win on virtually any track. He appears to be a very calm driver, not given to fits of rage or frustration. Johnson's ability to keep his cool under pressure has probably earned him quite a few of his wins. In other words, Jimmie Johnson is not likely to beat himself on the track. He's already a two time champion, and his talent as a driver has certainly made him deserving of those titles.
But there is a puppet master behind the scenes, and that is Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus. Chad has probably won as many races for the 48 team from atop the pit box as Jimmie has won by staying calm and using his talent. Chad Knaus has come from a position of relative obscurity to perhaps the sport's most admired crew chief in just a few short years. Though Johnson certainly has the talent to have won races with any crew chief, it is from Chad Knaus that the 48 Chevrolet truly gets its magic.
Jimmie Johnson himself entered the ranks of Sprint Cup drivers as a relative unknown as well. After enjoying a lackluster showing in the Nationwide series, Jeff Gordon personally pointed the young driver out to team owner Rick Hendrick. Gordon became the co-owner of the 48 Cup ride along with boss Hendrick. The rest, as they say, is history.
Chad Knaus has been with Jimmie Johnson since the very beginning of his Cup career. Chad worked his way up through the ranks at Hendrick Motorsports, and finally got his shot at the big time when he was tapped to be the crew chief of the brand new 48 car. Since 2002, the duo have managed to win 39 Cup races and 2 championships. This is a feat that could be seen as on the same level as that of Dale Earnhardt in the 1980's or Jeff Gordon in the 1990's.
Chad Knaus' ability to make the proper adjustments on the 48 Chevrolet and to make pit calls that make him appear to be an absolute genius are fast becoming, if not already, legendary. It's not very often that Jimmie Johnson runs out of gas with half a lap to go. It's not very often that the 48 car is not running at the front of the field. Chad Knaus has fit in perfectly with the Hendrick formula of putting the best people in the places where they are most talented, and then giving them what they need to make it all work. We've seen this formula work with Jeff Gordon's team in the past, and now we are seeing it work with the 48 team. Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team are on the verge of winning their 3rd straight championship, the likes of which has not been seen since Cale Yarborough did it in the 1976-1978. Jimmie and Chad could achieve greatness that has only been seen in this sport one time before in 2008. Earnhardt never achieved 3 consecutive championships. Gordon so far hasn't. Even Richard Petty never did. Only Cale Yarborough has so far. Jimmie Johnson could be next.
I believe that Jimmie Johnson would be the first to tell you that he could not have achieved nearly as much success as he has without the help of Chad Knaus. When it comes to crew chiefs, Chad Knaus has indeed proven himself to be a genius.