There are many race fans who believe Jimmie Johnson would not have near the success he has had if it weren’t for crew chief Chad Knaus.
Some even claim Knaus is the only reason for Johnson’s success, which includes six Cup championships.
Even as smart and talented as Knaus has proven to be, he doesn’t know everything.
And he’s not too set in his ways to make changes.
Even if some fans never will be convinced otherwise, success in NASCAR comes as a result of a talented driver and a talented group of team members working together toward a common goal.
That work can be grueling at times, and no one knows that that better than Knaus.
In fact, Knaus credits Johnson’s positive outlook on life in general for helping him put his own priorities in order, which in turn has made the No.48 Hendrick Motorsports team even better.
“Look, man, Jimmie as a person, wow, he’s such a great dude. It’s so funny, we’re so completely opposite,” Knaus said. “He’s West Coast. I’m Type A (personality), city, details. He’s like, ‘Man, things will be OK.’
“How Jimmie’s able to maintain his positive outlook is amazing to me. I wish I had a little bit of that. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him for so long that he’s definitely rubbed off on me.”
During recent years as Johnson and his wife, Chandra, have had two daughters, the demands on Johnson’s time have become more difficult to handle, yet he is able to juggle the work necessary to remain successful.
Knaus has taken notice.
“When we get into situations that aren’t the most comfortable, things are a little bit stressed, it’s really a good spot now because I can look at him and he has been a mentor for me in understanding there’s more to life than just racing,” Knaus said.
“That’s pretty cool. I owe a lot of my change in attitude to Jimmie because he’s opened my eyes.”
Knaus admits that for the longest time, he remained solely focused on making race cars go faster. That certainly paid off.
In 2008, Knaus became the only crew chief to earn three consecutive NASCAR championships. His six championships are second all-time to Dale Inman’s eight.
“You have to realize, I’ve lived my whole life in these circles. Middle of the race track – that’s where I live. You see the circle, put me in the middle of it, that’s where I’ve been for 30 years of my life,” he said.
“Jimmie has made me realize there’s more to it than just that. It’s pretty special. I love him like a brother. He’s pretty special to me.”
The change in Knaus has not gone unnoticed.
The team’s car chief, Ron Malec, who is the only other team member to have worked with Johnson and Knaus during their entire Cup career, said Knaus now delegates more work to others.
“Chad would take on all the pressure; he felt responsible for everything,” Malec said. “That’s not good for anyone.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick agreed.
“I give Chad a lot of credit. You know, he was running hard against the chip in those days. He had to learn how to take defeat,” Hendrick said.
“In watching Chad and Jimmie both mature, they’ve learned how to not let things get to a point where there’s a boiling point. Hopefully with the success they’ve had, they know they’re stronger together than they are apart.”
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