CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON AND THE NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS, WAS THE GUEST ON THIS WEEK’S NASCAR WEEKLY TELECONFERENCE.
BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPT FROM TODAY’S INTERVIEW:
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to today’s NASCAR teleconference. We are joined by Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. With four Brickyard Yard 400 wins, Knaus is the winningest the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Speedway, site of Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 At The Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.
Sunday’s race marks the 20th premiere series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Chad, of the four victories at the Brickyard, does one of them stand out more than the others?
CHAD KNAUS: Oh, boy. I think quite honestly, all of those victories were so special. I think last year’s was a lot of fun, from the standpoint of really having a super‑dominant race car, so that was definitely one that stood out.
I think one that was always kind of fun and different was probably not the one that the sport is most likely the happiest about, is when we did have the tire issues up there and we were running out of tires and we were throwing a lot of cautions and we were actually able to maintain and win that race. That was a lot of fun. I think that was our second one. They are all just so special. It’s such an amazing racetrack, so much history.
Q. Jimmie mentioned that you two clicked right from the very beginning when you were drinking beer and tossing horseshoes. After all these years and all these wins, can you describe what you two have to communicate, what you must communicate, and what you don’t have to communicate at all?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, it’s like any other relationship. It grows and there’s an ebb and flow of good times and bad. Jimmie and I have been very fortunate over the years to have gotten a good appreciation and mutual respect for one another.
We expanded on that relationship again this weekend, so we’ve had a few of those opportunities where we’ve been able to have a few beers and play some reindeer games.
Now we are to the point where I can understand where it is and how off we are with the race car based on his body language and what he says and his feedback. And he can definitely see with my feedback and my body language and the tone of my voice, he knows what’s happening from my perspective and that’s always good. One, you can kind of be short and concise and everybody understands where you’re at; and two, if there’s something going on that you don’t feel like talking about, the other person may have a way to play out of the funk if that’s something like that. If a lot of different levels, it’s pretty good for us.
Q. Being surrounded by success, what advice would you give any young person about being successful in life, in anything in life?
CHAD KNAUS: Wow. You know, just don’t settle. It’s kind of funny; I always am in just a semi‑state of a little bit of fear. I’m not going to lie. I don’t want ‑‑ I fear the fact that one day, we’ll never win a race again. I fear the fact that one day I won’t work with Jimmie again. I fear the fact that one day, I won’t have this amazing facility at Hendrick Motorsports to work in. And I try to work as hard as I can every single day to go out there and win races, because I know at some point in time, it’s going to go away. And you just can’t take anything for granted.
Q. A couple of questions. One, I wanted to know if you allowed yourself to have a little downtime this off‑week and what you did; and the second one is, also something you kind of spoke to and this is kind of living with a teeny bit of fear all the time. You guys have such a comfortable lead. You won the Daytona 500 and you have won all these races and you’re going to a mace you’ve won four times and you dominated last year. How are you keeping everyone’s feet on the ground, because I’m sure that you are, and that’s not such a bad possible to have, I would guess.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, definitely took some time off. Was able to go hang out with Jimmie and Chanie and Genevieve and some of our other close family friends and just relaxed and enjoyed some sunshine and a little bit of beach time. So that was a lot of fun; a lot of great stories, memories, that we’ll be referring back to quite a while from that respect.
As far as keeping our feet on the ground, it’s really rather simple with the group of guys that we’ve got. We all know that in seven weeks, this is all going away: This point lead, the momentum, the victories, all that is going to mean nothing as soon as we get to Chicagoland Raceway, and when we get there, we have to be on top of ours.
So to motivate these guys right now isn’t really ‑‑ the issue is making them realize that in seven weeks, they have to take their games to the next level and that’s really hard to do. Because if you sit back now and think that you can coast until Chicago, you’re sadly mistaken, because most important thing to do going into Chicago is to make sure you have momentum on your side, and that’s what our focus is.
Q. Can you remember feel like this at this point of the season still, feeling like things are really clicking as they have been?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we’ve had seasons that are very similar to this. But I’ll be quite honest with you, I don’t feel our team is at ten‑tenths yet. We have got a long ways to go. Dave Ellins (ph) and Peter Michel and Mike Ellershaw and the guys that do a lot of the car stuff, the engineering aspect of what it is we do, we are still in the infancy of our relationship. There’s a lot for us to improve upon and we are trying to get better weekly.
I think we are getting better but we have a long ways to go before we are where I was with Greg last year and Cody. So Ron Malec, he’s got a couple of new guys on his team that maintain the race car, and they are not operating 100 percent yet. We have had some small mistakes and we’ve had some small mistakes and we’ve had some small problems, one of which as recently as New Hampshire. We have got to get better there.
So we have got, over the course of the next seven weeks, for us to be operating where I feel like we need to be operating, we have a long road to hoe.
Q. Speaking of fear, we have seen some engine failure issues this year, Toyota of course has had some, I think Dale blew an engine at Michigan, etc. Just curious, is that something that enters or weighs on crew chiefs and drivers at all, or is that something that you have to put out of your mind, because really, in this day and age, is still somewhat rare.
CHAD KNAUS: I think that they are not ‑‑ there’s not as many now as what there once were, because we know how to control our destiny just a little bit better. A lot of the engine cycles that we’ve got at some of these tracks with a lot of RPM, a lot of on‑throttle time, especially with the GEN‑6 car and with the increased downforce and the lighter weight, the car goes through the corner faster, so there’s less off‑throttle times to let the engine recover.
We know or have ways that we can make the engines live a little bit longer. In years past, you just push, push, push, push, and ever what happened, happened. We are a little more cognizant of what’s going on now. Are we concerned about engine problems? Absolutely. Just like Indianapolis, where it’s one of the longest straightaways we’ve got; so you are always on top of that.
But where it really starts to come into
play is on tracks where you just don’t have a lot of off‑throttle time. Kentucky for instance; Michigan; Chicago is probably going to be another track where that’s similar; Kansas, once again. Those tracks are always a little testing and Texas is coming up; I believe the Texas race is still 500 miles, and that’s a long race.
Q. And of course, whenever an engine blows, there’s always ‑‑ I’m wondering if there’s the idea that ‑‑ also an example of where the teams are pushing an engine as far as possible in terms of performance and it just happens that the reliability happens to go. Isn’t it fair to say that you really push the engines to the limit?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, man. We have got standard push rod V8s that are turning almost 10,000 RPM for a full race. You’re pushing it to its outer limits. In all reality, these engines with the restrictions that we have on how we go forward, they shouldn’t be doing what they are doing. I think it’s phenomenal.
I think Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports have got a great engine package and the other manufacturers are working just as hard as what we are, but man, when you start making upwards of 840 horsepower, with just the throttle body V8 engine, that’s pretty impressive.
So, yeah, we are definitely on the outer limits of what these things be should be able to do, but I think that’s part of the draw and I think that’s very important. It wasn’t so long ago that if you had 30 cars finishing a Cup race, that was a big deal. It’s like, man, everybody made it, nobody had anything break, nobody had anything fall apart.
When these manufacturers and teams get so good, you have very few mechanical issues and you have very few engine issues. When you used to race 600 miles, it wasn’t about just who was going to be racing at 600 miles. It was like, who could make it 600 miles. So it’s pretty amazing what we do.
Q. You mentioned just a few minutes ago the importance of momentum. But really, why does it matter? The car doesn’t know what happened the week before, and I would argue that if it worked for you, it wouldn’t matter if you won or not the last week, you would be pushing hard either way, or I would probably have an internal drive that would be similar to yours. So why does momentum matter?
CHAD KNAUS: And that’s a great question. I said that time and time again; that momentum doesn’t really affect how the 48 works. But it damn sure doesn’t hurt, right.
So there’s a level of confidence that everybody needs to be able to work within, and when we go to a racetrack and we make great calls on pit road, we make the right calls with the chassis and we go out there and we have a successful race finishing in the Top‑10, Top‑8, Top‑5, and Jimmie has done a good job and he has made good moves and he has made solid decisions and the pit crew has done solid pit stops.
It just gives you a level of comfort to be able to go out there and attack. A lot of the decisions that we make, we want to say that we are so educated and we are so prepared; a lot what have we do is just off the hip.
When you have to make decisions like that, when you feel like you’ve done a good job over a period of time and you’re comfortable making those decisions, if you got burned on pit road a lot, say you’re taking two tires and everybody else took four; you stayed out, everybody stayed in; you pitted, everybody else stayed out. You go through three or four weeks of that, when it’s time to make that decision, you’ve got all those scenarios passing through your head. You have this menu of options that are just flittering through and you’re thinking, which one do I need to do or I could burn here. Having good, solid races is really, really important.
Q. As you talk about that, obviously going back to New Hampshire, I guess the way the weekend starts, you’re fast and you have qualifying issues, somebody could say maybe that disrupts momentum. How does that affect things and then coming back and getting the finish that you did, how do you live like you guys responded to that and what do you want from that in terms of the momentum and how it shifted so much just even in the one weekend.
CHAD KNAUS: It’s a damn roller coaster. It was great. Look, I hated what happened, happened, but it happened, right. Saturday night I went to bed perfectly comfortable. I was excited to see what we were going to be capable of doing Sunday.
And I think the way that our team performed on Sunday was fantastic. We went out there, we had a bad pit box obviously, we were trapped in between the 16 and 17; so every time we were leaving our pit box, we had the 16 around us and we always got choked up by that ‑‑ by no fault of anybody’s; it’s just the tightness of the road.
So we never really gained spots and showed what our pit crew was capable of doing. Our car was solid but we had to do some unique strategy to make sure we were able to stay up there and Jimmie did a fantastic job all day long. I think that was as big as a momentum builder for us as winning Daytona was because we were able to overcome so many things. There were so many teams out there that started up front that we finished ahead, and that was nice.
I think if we could have started up front in New Hampshire where we had qualified, we would have potentially have run in the top two, three, all day long.
Q. I know you’ve talked about how Jimmie is able to let things not bother him, but I’m curious, could you have gone on vacation with him ‑‑ inaudible ‑‑ if Jeff Gordon had some points?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, that’s funny, the first thing my buddy said when I walked up to him on the beach this weekend, ‘I wonder if Dave Rogers is on vacation.’ I almost turned around immediately and went back to Charlotte.
You have to ‑‑ you have to be able to eject a little bit. I have a really good friend of mine that said, if you don’t reward your successes, you’ll never want to be successful, and Jimmie has helped teach me that over the years.
And again, I only took ‑‑ look, I took three days off, so it wasn’t like I completely ejected, you know. But I took three days off. I was able to relax, have a good time, hang out with one of my best friends and many of my other best friends and just chill. It was really good and I probably would have done it either way.
Q. You’ve talked about the engines and you’ve talked about the difference in the new cars. How in the heck do you keep up with all this modern technology? Do you lay awake at night saying, boy, how am I going to solve this problem?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it’s tough. Especially for me. I’m not as educated as some of these new crew chiefs are. These guys are so smart that are coming into our industry. It’s a challenge for me to stay abreast as to what’s going on, just because things are changing so quickly. I didn’t go to college; I still can’t type. I one‑finger peck. It’s tough to keep up with what’s going on and you have to; you have to want to do it.
I love my job. I’ve never once not wanted to get up and go to work. Now, I’ve sometimes not wanted to get up because I was tired, but I’ve always wanted to go to work and I’m very, very fortunate for that.