Car owner Rick Hendrick perfectly matched Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson three years ago. Knaus, one of the original "Rainbow Warrior" crew members for Jeff Gordon's team in the 1990s, was a rookie crew chief and Johnson a rookie driver.
They finished fifth in the then Winston Cup points championship in 2001 and followed up with a second-place finish last year. Going into this week's race at New Hampshire, their team leads the Nextel Cup points standings.
Knaus took time earlier this week to share his thoughts on the points race, his driver and his team.
Question: How does leading the points and being in this good position affect your team over the next eight or nine races?
Knaus: I think it's pretty comforting. We're sitting in a pretty comfortable position right now. We have a small lead over second place and we're solidly in the top 10. We'd have to have a lot of things go wrong for us to fall out of the top 10. It's 'freebie' test time as far as I'm concerned. We're going to be able to try some different things. We're going to try some shock packages, some spring packages, some aero packages. We're going to work on a lot of different things to try to make sure that when we get to the final 10 races that we're prepare to win the race and win the championship. We can actually use the races themselves as tests.
Question: As a crew chief, have you seen Jimmie develop into the type of driver who 'gets it' now as a veteran like Jeff Gordon would?
Knaus: Yeah, absolutely, I mean Jimmie has always understood racing very well. What Jeff was really leading to was the draft. Jimmie's drafting capabilities ... he's always been good at it, but now he's starting to get the respect from the other guys. They help him; they allow him to help them. He understands the pushes, the pulls, what happens when you get up next to somebody, what happens when you get in the middle. He really understands it and everybody else around knows that he gets it. It makes it a lot easier to race at the superspeedways when you know that you're going to get some help. It works out well.
Question: Do you see him walking around with a load of confidence now because of it?
Knaus: Any time you're successful in anything you do you're going to be more and more confident when you roll in there. Confidence is a big thing in motorsports. Just like when a batter is on a hitting streak, he knows when he walks up to the plate he's going to connect and get a hit. That is a good thing when you're walking up there. If you're walking up there and you're in a slump or you're somebody who hasn't won in a bunch of races, you're like, 'Man, I have no chance in heck of hitting this ball or winning this race.' You're beaten before you even get there. Jimmie has been pretty fortunate that he's always had confidence in the equipment. Now he's really truly developed a confidence in his own ability.
Question: There is a fine line between a team being cocky and a crew chief who wants his team to exude confidence. Where is your team in that regard?
Knaus: A bunch of my guys are awfully confident, as you would say. Confidence is great; cockiness isn't. I believe if you go out there and do your job and you're confident in your job, you deserve to walk with your chest puffed up and your head held high. I think that's part of something you earn, and I want people on this team to feel very comfortable in doing their job. When they set out to do their job, I want them to feel that they are the best out there and that nobody can beat them. That's just an air of confidence, something you develop, and I like that. Now if you're somebody that goes out there and you try to walk with all the confidence in the world and you can't get the job done, that's just cocky and not too smart. I don't like that. We definitely try to keep ourselves humble. When we win a race, we know that it's not because of a tire changer or a crew chief or the driver. It's because of the team. When you associate yourself with the team and not just with an individual, that's how you stay humble.
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