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.
[media-credit name=”Ed Coombs” align=”alignright” width=”216″][/media-credit]Summer can also be a time when teenagers look for a job to put extra some cash in their pockets, but to a 14-year-old native of Rockford, Illinois, it meant spending his weekends, helping his dad win his first Great Northern Series championship.
What a joy it must have been for a father to not only see, but also hear his son in the box during his championship season. Who is this crew chief that started winning championships at an age when most young boys were busy chasing girls, and 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 and winning multiple championships. Knaus 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-six years later as the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship is only six races away from crowning the 2011 champion, the No. 48 team could very well be adding another page to the NASCAR history books, which was rewritten after last year’s record-breaking season. This young man from Rockford, Illinois carried with him 26 years of experience, dating back to a time when most teenagers were still having trouble doing their everyday chores, yet his biggest chore was helping his dad try to win championships.
Winning championships or even getting a driver into victory lane, requires a vast knowledge of the sport, as well as keen sense of when to execute the right moves, and split-second decision making under some of the most extreme and pressure sensitive situations. Knaus has taken the job of a crew chief to whole new level by executing an effective formula that gets the most out of his driver Jimmie Johnson, with the humbleness of allowing his driver to be the center of attention.
Knaus got his first start as a Winston cup crew chief back in 2001, working for Mark Melling’s driver Stacey Compton, and since has shown the racing world that he belongs among some of the best in the business. Looking further back beyond the 2001 season, 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. The Illinois native 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, when back in 2007 during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Speedway, he and Steve Letarte were both found in violation of a pair of out of shape fenders by NASCAR, and 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. Knaus has shown throughout his NASCAR career that he does belong beside some of the great crew chiefs of the past.
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 six races left in the chase for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, Johnson has six wins, 10 top-five, and 14 top-10 finishes in 20 starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with a win and a second place finish in his last two races during the chase.
Fate could once again play into the hands of this dynamic-duo, and five-time could very well become six-time with another good run at a track that Johnson feels is one his strengths. “I think we’re going to be a threat (at Charlotte Motor Speedway). When I look back to Chicago, Kentucky, and Kansas obviously, our 1.5-mile stuff has been coming along pretty good over the last two or three months,” Johnson said during his weekly press conference.
Johnson has amassed a very respectable 96.7% of laps completed at this 1.5 mile layout, and an average finish of fourth in a seven chase races, which could be a momentum builder as well as a confidence booster going into the second half of the chase.
Johnson also added that, “I definitely feel that our groove is here, and it’s been slowly building. We had some good momentum in the three or four races coming into the start of the Chase.”