Since Jimmie Johnson burst onto the scene as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie in 2002, his ace in the hole has been crew chief
Chad Knaus. Over 14 stellar seasons together, the
duo has captured an amazing six championships –
including five in a row from 2006-2010 – along with
more than 70 race victories at NASCAR’s premier
level. The two are now the longest-running driver-crew chief combination in NASCAR, and it’s not
even close. So how has Knaus been Johnson’s ace
in the hole for so long?
In addition to preparing consistently fast race
cars for the now six-time champion, Knaus is arguably the savviest of all crew chiefs when it comes
to in-race strategy and improving his driver’s cars
over the course of the long NASCAR Sprint Cup
Time and time again, Johnson and Knaus have
seemingly saved their best for the Chase for the
NASCAR Sprint Cup – the season’s final 10 races
from which the champion is ultimately decided.
Knaus is also a master-motivator who boasts
an uncanny ability to encourage his driver and
members of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team
to bring their “A” game each and every week.
Knaus also understands Johnson – and how
Johnson thinks. Other than Johnson’s wife, Chandra, it’s safe to say there’s no one in the world who
knows him better than the man atop the No. 48
pit box on Sunday afternoons. In fact, Johnson and
Knaus have been together for so long that they’re
practically like brothers.
Even when they bicker or disagree – which does
occasionally happen over the No. 48 team’s in-car
radio – they always manage to quickly put their differences behind them and move on to the next race.
Knaus is also an expert at successful improvisation, which has taken multiple forms over the years.
For example, one of the primary keys to
Johnson’s recurring dominance has been Knaus’
penchant for making the No. 48 Chevrolet better
throughout the race, especially at the end when it
Knaus has also been known to buck conventional
wisdom for the betterment of Johnson and the team.
There’s been no better example of this than what happened at Texas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2010.
With Johnson’s No. 48 team in the hunt for a
championship but struggling badly on pit road, Knaus
made the controversial decision to move Johnson’s
pit crew over to teammate Jeff Gordon’s car and
have Gordon’s pit crew service Johnson’s machine.
Although the swap was questioned and even
criticized by some observers, most notably a rival
crew chief, the decision ultimately bore fruit as
Johnson went on to win his fifth championship two
weekends later at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The bottom line: Johnson wouldn’t be who he
is today – a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
champion and one of the sport’s greatest drivers
of all time – without the guidance and steady hand
Now in hot pursuit of a record-tying seventh
championship in NASCAR’s top series, Johnson
need not look far to find where his advantage lies.
It’s in Knaus – his undisputed, always reliable
ace in the hole.
CREW CHIEF OF THE NO. 48 TEAM
When playing poker, it’s always a big advantage
to have an ace in the hole. In the world of
competitive stock-car racing, it’s no different.
JARED TURNER GE T T Y IMAGES