Knaus Fueled by Fear
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 24, 2013 | 4:28 P.M. EST
Crew chief Chad Knaus is focused on the Chase instead of the large points lead his team has heading to this weekend's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo Getty Images)
Fear’s strength is that even when things are good, it lurks. Real or imagined, the thought something can be worse shifts the focus from the present. For some, that can motivate. For others, it can cause them to hesitate.
Fear helps Chad Knaus succeed.
“I fear the fact that one day, we'll never win a race again,’’ said Knaus, who has won 62 NASCAR Sprint Cup races as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief. “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. 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.’’
Maybe, when his career is over, Knaus will enjoy all that he’s accomplished, including the five championships with Johnson. For now, he’s worried only about what can happen. So Knaus doesn’t bask in the 56-point lead Johnson has - more than a full race - on second-place Clint Bowyer or relish in the Daytona 500 win or the other four victories, including the All-Star triumph, this season.
Knaus also won’t take comfort in the series heading this week to Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he and Johnson have won four times or that the series goes the following week to Pocono where Johnson scored a dominating victory last month.
“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 (Speedway), and when we get there, we have to be on top,’’ he said.
“The issue is making (the crew) 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 the 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.’’
Momentum is a funny thing in NASCAR. A car doesn’t know how the team did the week before. Even if Johnson won the week before, Knaus wouldn’t let his team enjoy it too long. This is a guy who served as his father’s crew chief at age 14 when his dad raced Late Models in Illinois. A competitor once saw Knaus near tears after the car had been wrecked, so the thought of running well one week would change Knaus’ approach is silly. He admits nearly as much but says it’s better than a string of failures, noting, for example, that a series of wrong pit calls can interfere with decision-making in later races.
Start second-guessing one’s self and the results can get worse for a crew chief and his team.
That’s only one of many obstacles a team can face any weekend. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, though.
Knaus admits the problems at New Hampshire two weeks ago could prove helpful for the team. Johnson qualified second before his time was disallowed when his car failed inspection for being too low. Knaus blamed it on a mistake the team made.
Johnson had to start the race last and had the last pick of pit stalls, meaning he got the one none of the other 42 competitors wanted. Despite those challenges, Johnson finished sixth to extend his points lead.
“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,’’ Knaus said.