By Kelly Crandall – For every accomplishment that Jimmie Johnson adds to his impressive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series resume, crew chief Chad Knaus is there to share in the accolades.
Well, for most of them anyway. Knaus has been on a few NASCAR mandated days off and missed some of Johnson’s wins. Lately however, the most noticeable and talked about crew chief in the garage has had a front row seat for – as well as place in – history.
Including Sunday afternoon in Dover where Johnson won for the eighth time at the speedway. The win put him in sole possession of first place on the all-time win’s list there. He broke a tie with the King Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, both Hall of Famers who Johnson will one day join.
“This is obviously a great racetrack for us. Jimmie has really taken to this place starting back in 2002 when we first came,” Knaus said after the pair notched their 63rd win together. “It’s pretty spectacular every time I hear Jimmie’s name mentioned in the same sentence as guys like Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt Sr., all the guys that have done so well throughout the history of our sport. To be able to one up those guys right now is pretty spectacular.”
For Johnson it’s his 65th career win and fifth of 2013. In the bigger picture, as he and Knaus chase another championship, it moved them to second in points behind Matt Kenseth, just eight markers from the spot they held for all but three regular season races.
The Knaus – Johnson duo is the longest current running crew chief and driver combination in the NSCS. And when all is said and done they’ll be one of the best NASCAR has ever seen. With the drive and determination the two have though, there’s still time to break every other record still out there and become the greatest of all time.
“The man’s got a lot of skills. It’s been an honor to be able to work with Jimmie over the course of the years,” said Knaus, who began to praise Johnson as he sat next him. The five-time champion intently listening to his crew chief and best friend. “I think he’s able to pull out some things that are pretty spectacular. He’s able to dig deeper, pull out his cape, make things happen in winning moments of these races that other people cannot do. It’s pretty spectacular.”
In 2008 while Johnson tied Cale Yarborough by winning three straight championships, Knaus became the first crew chief to accomplish the feat. The following two years as they won two more titles they made new records. Johnson sits behind just Petty and Earnhardt Sr. in titles while Knaus is second behind Dale Inman’s eight.
“It’s really cool. I’m not sure I’ve ever done what Richard Petty hasn’t,” Johnson said on Sunday. “To get this eighth win here is very, very special. Truthfully it was the first thought that went through my mind when I crossed the finish line.”
For Knaus, a man who treats every win and race as part of the job, the man who had to be told it was okay to take a vacation and walk away, it seemed he too was caught up in the moment.
He and Johnson not only took the record at Dover, but Johnson is now the winningest driver at seven different tracks. Just this season he became the first driver to win four All-Star race’s at Charlotte and Knaus is the winningest crew chief at Indianapolis after guiding Johnson to four career Brickyard 400 wins.
“I’ve seen a lot of great drivers, worked with a lot of great drivers. Knowing what we’ve got sitting behind the seat is always a little bit of confidence, knowing if you get close, if you make the right call at the right time, he’s going to be able to carry the ball,” said Knaus.
Winning isn’t new for these two. Through five championships, eight trophies from Martinsville and Dover respectively, the Brickyard 400 wins and a Daytona 500 (two for Johnson) and all those years they owned the Charlotte Motor Speedway, it’s been business as usual. But Sunday afternoon, the latest accomplishment had even Knaus admitting how incredible the last 12 years have been.
“Once again, I think Jimmie is probably the most underrated champion we have in this industry,” Knaus continued. “He is by far and above the most powerful driver over the course of the last 25, 35 years in this sport. It’s pretty fun being able to work with him.”
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