NASCAR Media Conference
November 12, 2013
AMANDA ELLIS: Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are joined by Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports and driver Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Knaus and his team have won six races and five‑time series champion Jimmie Johnson leads the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings going into the finale at Homestead‑Miami Speedway on Sunday. You've come into Homestead as a contender a number of times. How does this particular finale compare with the others?
CHAD KNAUS: That's a good question. It's probably not a whole lot different. We know that we've got to go into Homestead prepared to go and race hard for 400 miles. We know that we need to go in there and do everything in our power to qualify as best we possibly can and to get ourselves in position to potentially win the race if the opportunity arises.
That's kind of the way that we've approached it every single time that we've gone to Homestead for the final race, and if we can do that, everything should shake out okay for us on the 48 car.
Q. Chad, just kind of wondering after seeing you guys together for so long, how long can you maintain the type of intensity needed to compete at this level?
CHAD KNAUS: Are you referring to Jimmie and I? I hope for a while yet. You know, I think we're definitely in a very comfortable environment, very fortunate to be able to be working with Mr.Hendrick and everybody here at Hendrick Motorsports. We know that these are good opportunities for us to go out there and win a lot of races and battle for championships. I think if things continue the way they are, we should be able to stay together for a few more years yet.
Q. When you were working under Ray Evernham did you ever envision a time where there would be somebody, and that being you, that would even beat his records, what he established during the glory days of the 24?
CHAD KNAUS: I didn't‑‑ I don't know that I ever really thought of it from that angle, if anybody would beat him or if it would be me or anything like that. That really wasn't what my focus was. When I was working with Ray and Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports back in those days, in the early‑to‑mid '90s, all I wanted to do was work as hard as I could and do the best I could for Ray and Jeff Gordon and Mr.Hendrick to try to win races.
I can't say I thought of it from that angle. I didn't really care about that.
Q. As much success as you've had and as much‑‑ as long as you've been linked with Jimmie, is there a next step for you? Do you ever allow yourself to think ahead of where you want to take the career that's already had this kind of success, and also, what keeps it from year to year from seeming like the same old?
CHAD KNAUS: (Laughing) I don't know what the next step is. Mr.Hendrick doesn't give me enough time off work to actually think about anything other than racing. I don't know if there is another one.
I don't know what I'm going to do. You know, one day we'll wake up and I'll probably just check out and be gone. We just have to wait for that day to arise. But right now I really enjoy what it is that I'm doing. I really enjoy working with Ron Malec and Jimmie and everybody here at Hendrick Motorsports. But I don't know what's going to happen. We're just going to have to wait and see.
Q. We were talking to Gil Martin earlier, and he was talking about the success you guys have had, and he said you've been through what he described in a dating sense, the holding hands period and reached‑‑ got past that to the point where you could just put it all together so well. Could you sort of address that?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah. Jimmie and I have been together for a long time, obviously. Any relationship needs work. We've been very fortunate to have been together for a long time, and it's been a lot of work. We've had some really good times, we've had some really stressful times together. We've had some really successful times. We've had a lot of victories and a lot of faults. We lose a heck of a lot more races than we win. Everybody thinks that we dominate and so on and so forth and that's what everybody writes about and the fans talk about, but man, we lose a lot of races, and that's taxing on anybody.
As we're trying to do better weekly and improve weekly, it's always a challenge. The good thing we've got is that I've got 100‑percent confidence in Jimmie and I feel like he has the same for me, and we know that at the end of the day, all we're trying to do is to make each other better with any of our constructive criticism, any of our feedback or any of our suggestions. It's a really nice environment to work in when you know that your driver has your back 100 percent.
Q. When you and Jimmie were first winning championships together, did you ever think he'd be getting up at 5:30 in the morning to go run, and what do you think his current focus on his fitness as far as just running and swimming and biking have impacted his performance?
CHAD KNAUS: First off, no, he was definitely not an athlete when we first started hanging out, not by any stretch. I shouldn't say he wasn't an athlete, that isn't fair. He wasn't a training athlete. He didn't enjoy it, he didn't do it. He knew he needed to. He would do enough to potentially get by. At that point in time I was probably in a lot better shape than what he was. I was probably training more then. Now he's taken it to the next level as far as training goes. He's a phenomenal athlete. He's got obviously a tremendous skill set, and now he's working on his physical aptitude. I think it definitely does a lot of good for him. I think that it, one, obviously makes his endurance a lot better throughout the course of these races. I think it makes him more alert and better come the end of the events when other drivers are maybe more tired. I think it also has provided a significant outlet for him to where he can go, train, get away from the racing environment and enjoy it.
I'm 100 percent in favor of it. I like what he does. I think it's good for him all the way around. So it's a good thing. It's a definite positive, plus‑plus.
Q. I assume, though, that you're not going to want to ever join him on a 5:30 in the morning run?
CHAD KNAUS: Man, I'm coming to work at 5:30 in the morning. He gets to go train. We have completely different schedules. If I had the ability to go train at 5:30 and come in at 8:00 or whatever, I would maybe do that. But unfortunately that's not how it works for me. I have to come in and go to work. But we have been on some rides together. I'm not near the shape that Jimmie is by any stretch, but I do enjoy going riding with him when I can, when we can fit it in at the racetracks or whatever it may be.
Q. I know you're so busy with the 48 team and the Chase, but I just wondered if you've ever had time to think about what it would be like to compete against the 48 team if you were with another organization. I guess you might consider that a good challenge, right?
CHAD KNAUS: Wow, that's a good question. I've never been asked that one before. What would it be like to compete against ourselves. I think quite honestly, we do a lot. If you look at the capabilities of the other teams at Hendrick Motorsports with Kenny and Kasey and the 5 car and Alan and Jeff on the 24 and Stevie and Dale on the 88, I think that we're competing as close to our brothers as we possibly can, so it's difficult. You've got to go out there and you've got to try to beat those guys week in and week out. I'm very fortunate, it's been a long time since I've worked on another team, so I don't know all the resources they've got. I don't know what they've got or the intensity level or how the other crew chiefs work in the other race teams, but I can only assume that they're very similar to us. So we're probably racing against ourselves maybe even more so than what we actually think right now.
Q. If things go your way this week, the talk will pick up about how you guys are the greatest team in history and people trying to analyze how that happens. Are you the greatest crew chief, is Jimmie the greatest driver? From your view, do you think that you're working with the greatest driver in NASCAR history?
CHAD KNAUS: I think‑‑ gosh, that's‑‑ how do you answer that question without somebody saying I'm wrong, right? I can tell you this: I've worked with a lot of fantastic race car drivers and I've seen a lot of drivers come and go in our sport. I think that Jimmie is, for me, and for our time, the best driver to ever sit in a race car. Now, does that mean that he could have taken a 1956 Dodge or Plymouth or something like that and beaten Richard Petty? I have no idea, right? All I can compare it to is the present. All I can compare it to is what we do out there right now and the performance that I see him pull. I think he's pretty remarkable. I'm very, very fortunate to have a driver of that talent.
Q. You've made some changes on your pit crew this season. Some of the guys have never been in this final race situation before. How are they handling the pressure this week, and how do you think they'll handle it on Sunday?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we do have some new guys. We've got actually quite a few new guys, but honestly I think they're going to do really well. I think the way that we prepare leading up to this point, the level that we expect out of our guys on a weekly basis, I think they're used to pressure. We're fortunate enough that we've been in position to have battled for race wins. We've battled for‑‑ battled to come back from bad problems, from bad things that have gone on in the race, and these guys have responded really well. I'm super excited to see how these guys go down there and tackle this. I've got all the confidence in the world in them, and I think they can do it, I really do.
I think they can pull it together and go out there and put together six really good pit stops, and that's probably about what we're going to need.
Q. Jimmie said there's so much pressure on him going into this week, especially with the big points lead. Do you feel the same way? Is there more pressure with the bigger points lead?
CHAD KNAUS: I wouldn't say there's more pressure, but you'll look like a bigger fool if you lose it. I think that we want to‑‑ we just want to go down there and perform. We want to get down there and race, and the better we qualify, the better pit selection we get, the better starting position you get, the better race you're going to give yourself a chance to have. There's a lot of pressure, no doubt about it, but that's what we love. I live for these last 10 weeks, and once we get through these next 10 weeks I can't wait to get through the next 26 so I can get to these 10 weeks next year. This is what we live for. This is what we enjoy. We like the pressure.
Q. As you were coming up, I'm guessing there were guys like Ray and other crew chiefs in the business that you emulated and you wanted to be as good as they were, be better than they were. Now that you're in the position that you're in, you're regarded as the best crew chief in the garage, who do you measure yourself against, the competition each week? How do you look for to find that next‑‑ to learn from, I guess?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, I don't think I'm the best crew chief in the garage. I think I've got the best team, I've got the best driver and the best resource. I think that keeping those pieces together is a bit of a challenge and difficult, and that's one thing I've been very fortunate enough to be able to do. We've had a lot of changes with engineers and mechanics and pit crew members and we can still run up there, but I feel like that as a whole, what I'm trying to improve on isn't really the crew chief thing, it's the personal issues, how to communicate, how to continue to improve the respect with the people that work with you and your group and how to communicate properly, how to gain the respect on a consistent basis with everybody that you're involved with.
When I think of people, how to do that, I think of guys like Rick Hendrick, I think of people like Mr.Penske, I think of gentlemen like that that go out there and have a very demanding, very taxing lifestyles that are able to go out there and be successful and maintain a moderate level, sense of sanity. That's really what I'm trying to do now. I feel like from the racing standpoint, we've got a good handle on things, and I'm just trying to improve my inner self a bit.
Q. Is it correct that you guys have the Texas car this weekend, and if so, is the plan from the drop of the green flag to do what you did in Texas, or do you feel like maybe you've got a lead to protect before you start going after it that hard?
CHAD KNAUS: It is our Texas race car. It's a really good race car. We're going to have to go down there and just see how it all unfolds. Obviously we would love to get ourselves in a position to where we can get out there, control the event and potentially get ourselves in a position to win the race. What better way to end the season, obviously, than with a victory.
But we're just going to have to see how it all unfolds. We're not dumb. We try to be fairly intelligent and understand all circumstances, and we understand that there's two race cars that we're racing, and that's the 20 and the 29, and that's really where our main focus has to be. But we also know if we go out there and we lead laps and can battle for the victory, we know that we're going to ultimately beat those guys. So that's kind of our plan, so we're going to go down there and go and see if we can close it out big.
Q. I just wondered if you could kind of describe for me the tenor of this week, this championship finale. There's not really any locker room bulletin board material, the other crew chiefs are kind of talking about, well, it's a long shot, all we can do it just try to win the race. You've been through so many of these. How does this one shake out for you? Are you having to do a lot of motivating? What's it like?
CHAD KNAUS: I don't think so. I had a quick meeting with our guys this morning. Every situation is different, every person is motivated differently. I'm very fortunate that the guys on the 48 team, they kind of help motivate each other. There's an energy that is involved being a part of this team that makes you want to do well and makes you want to work harder. So it's not like I really have to get the guys and develop this huge rah‑rah speech. I don't have to go and make them feel like they need to do more. But I'd say the biggest thing I told the guys today was what we do between now and Sunday night, whatever we have to do, if we have to work 24 hours a day, if you have to sacrifice time at home, if you have to sacrifice lunch, if you have to do whatever you can to make sure that that car is as prepared as it possibly can be and you are as prepared as you possibly can be for that event, any pain that you feel between now and Sunday you won't remember that 20 years from now. But what you will remember is if you win that championship and you have that ring.
I think that they understand that that's the facts, and if they can go out there and do what it is they need to do and we are as prepared as we need to be, everything will fall into place.
Q. Is it almost harder because you don't have anyone‑‑ this isn't a real fiery ending here. As it just works out circumstantial, these aren't people that are getting all fired up?
CHAD KNAUS: If you don't think it's a fiery ending, go talk to Denny Hamlin and ask him what happened a couple years ago when he came in with the points lead. If you don't think it's a fiery ending, come over here and hop on the pit box and help me try to call the race and make sure you don't mess up. It's a very fiery ending. It's so easy to throw these things away. We see it time and time again.
There's things that you cannot control, there's things that you can control, and we've got to make sure that we can control what is in our ability and put our best foot forward. If we don't, if we let something slip, it could be a big problem.
We almost came back last year and really put that 2 car in a position where they had to race pretty hard. Unfortunately we had a couple situations that crept up, but this is not easy. It's not easy going out there and trying to race for 267 laps. It's not. It's not easy at all.
Q. Not everybody gets to talk about repeat championships, and not everybody knows as much about repeat championships as you do. What recommendations would you share with other drivers and team members that have that drive to go out there and win championships?
CHAD KNAUS: Honestly it's just about the details. There's so many things that you cannot control in motorsports or in any other type of sport. You've got to make sure that the things that are within your control, that you're on top of and prepared for to the best of your ability. Playing out the scenarios in your head, playing out the scenarios in your head with the group, making sure everybody is on the same page, communicating, that's what you've got to do. You've got to‑‑ it's not an individual process. It's a team process. That's something I learned a long time ago. And the more I bought into that and the more I realized it, the better we were.
Q. Are repeat championships harder?
CHAD KNAUS: No. No. Not really. I mean, they're all hard. Every single one of them. Just because‑‑ it's not like climbing a mountain, right? As you climb up it, it doesn't get harder. It's the same challenge, it's just whether or not you can keep everything together to win. It's not any harder.
Q. A little off the subject, NASCAR keeps changing the dimension of the body, the chassis each year and stuff, and we're seeing more and more of the cars getting over, upside down in the air and stuff. What's your feelings in that area?
CHAD KNAUS: I think that the cars are significantly safer than what they've been in the past. I know we're continuing to work on more safety measures. They've got some things that they're working on in Charlotte when we go there in a couple weeks to do some testing that will help increase the safety parameters of the cars. Quite honestly I think the cars are very safe. We were talking about it not too long ago, Dave Elenz my engineer and myself, and I can remember when we didn't even have soft walls and these guys were still going 180, 190 miles per hour and careening into those walls and it was amazing we didn't have more injuries than what we did, because they still come out of the car now and they're hurt. Cars are going to get upside down, cars are going to get turned around backwards from time to time. The closer the racing is, the higher the likelihood of that type of situation arising, but that's part of racing. It's part of the thrill, honestly. We just need to try to make the cars and the fans as safe as we possibly can, that way when we do have those situations come up, we can have everybody walking away.
Q. Was the plan always to bring the Texas car to Homestead or is it the fact that it was just so dominant at Texas that you changed plans?
CHAD KNAUS: We wanted to. We were prepared if the car didn't make it from Texas. We had our Kansas car sitting there ready to go, which is actually our backup car, so it's very similar type racetracks for our backup car. The car that we ran at Texas is also the car that we ran at Charlotte that I felt like we could have won with in Charlotte. It's the car that we won with in Dover, so it's a really, really good race car, and performed great. I was hoping we were going to be able to bring it, but shoot, you just never know sometimes.
Q. Using the same car three races in five weeks and now it sounds like four races in eight weeks, is that typical if you have a car that you really like, or is that somewhat not typical?
CHAD KNAUS: No, it's definitely not typical. We could very easily take another race car and run very, very competitively. This car as we had worked on it throughout the course of the season was showing some promise. We kind of had it at Dover in the spring, we felt like we should have, could have, would have won that race. We felt when we unloaded that car in Michigan as a backup car, albeit we only ran a handful of laps, the car was really fast and Jimmie had some good feel for it. So we liked that. Then when we took it to Dover, we realized it still had that same potential and we had tested it a couple times before that.
We felt really confident with the race car, and we will typically towards the end of the season, if we have a car that we really like, we'll try to race that car a little bit more often. But throughout the course of the normal season, we usually probably have like a four‑week turnaround. So this is a little bit different. But the boys are up to the challenge.
AMANDA ELLIS: Chad, we thank you for joining us today, and we wish you and the team the very best of luck this weekend at Homestead.
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