Davidson basketball coach Bob McKillop admits his knowledge of NASCAR is limited.
Yet some things in sports are universal. So when Chad Knaus, the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy team, asked McKillop to give a motivational talk to his crew recently, McKillop eagerly accepted.
“He walked in with a little pep in his step,” said Ryan Patton, Johnson’s rear-tire carrier. “You could tell he was ready to go.”
McKillop’s message to Johnson’s team was similar to what he routinely delivers to his players:
“Greatness is within your grasp,” McKillop said. “What is coming over the (final) 10 races will define not only your season, but your legacy.”
Knaus invited McKillop to Hendrick Motorsports’ Concord headquarters to help prepare the team for the Chase, which, after Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, begins next week at Chicagoland Speedway. Johnson – a six-time champion -- has long since clinched a spot in the postseason, but priming for a run at No. 7 is a never-ending priority.
“We train all year for the Chase,” said crew coach Chris Krieg. “We like to think we’re working hard all year, trying to make sure we’re at our peak for the Chase. We may need some extra training heading into it, or look again at our nutrition or sleep to try to head off any issues. When we get to the Chase, we want to be hitting on all eight cylinders.”
What is coming over the (final) 10 races will define not only your season, but your legacy.
There’s also a motivational and emotional aspect to it. That’s why Knaus invited McKillop, whose only NASCAR experience had been when he visited Johnson’s team during the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2008, a few weeks after the Wildcats’ advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.
“I was blown away by watching the pit crews in action during the race,” McKillop said. “To see the training, the exercise they’d put in. Holy Christmas, there’s so much precision. One mistake and, boom, it’s over.”
There are obvious similarities between the 16-driver Chase – which has four-round elimination format – and the NCAA tournament.
“Our guys know that in the Chase, we can win a race and extend into the Chase, or it can go in the opposite direction,” Krieg said. “It’s a different pressure that’s used in other sports and I would venture coach McKillop and his guys feel the same way.”
The Chase begins next week at Chicagoland Speedway.
Beforehand, McKillop studied up on what Johnson and his team have accomplished and how they are within one championship of tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s NASCAR record of seven career titles.
“What they have done in basketball terms isn’t Duke or Indiana or Kentucky,” McKillop said. “It’s not Mike (Krzyzewski) or Bob (Knight). The better comparison to what they’ve accomplished is John Wooden and UCLA” and their 11 national championships.
Knaus isn’t the only crew chief who has organized special, pre-Chase events for his team. Driver Joey Logano’s team and family members are getting together around a charitable function for his Joey Logano Foundation.
“It’s the most thrilling part of the season,” said Logano. “We’re at the most intense part of the season. This is where you can’t make mistakes. You have to raise your game. So we’re able to do some things as a (team) and that’s the way we lead our team – to try to bring the whole family in and embrace what we’ve accomplished throughout the whole season and celebrate making the Chase.”
6 NASCAR Cup championships won by Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team
So taking a pause, however brief, can be refreshing for teams that are gearing up for the pressures of the Chase.
“It’s a great accomplishment, but it’s not the goal,” Logano said of making the Chase. “You have to be able to keep going forward. You can’t burn yourself into the ground. You can overwork yourself and run yourself right into the ground and be tired when you get to the race track. We make sure our batteries are charged and we’ve been doing that over the summer.”
McKillop said that before he took the floor, Knaus spoke for about 20 minutes to his team.
“That was inspirational to me,” said McKillop. “Chad is essentially a coach. So he’s coaching his guys, pushing buttons. They’re attentive, just like the pros they are. The maturity level of those guys is extraordinary. They’re consummate pros. They were riveted with attention to Chad and me.”
McKillop mixed his message with stories about Stephen Curry, Davidson’s greatest player and the NBA’s most valuable player.
“(McKillop) talked about recruiting him to Davidson and how he threw him out of his first practice and his growth and transition to the NBA,” said Patton. “What made it interesting is he could tell you what makes great players great. The little things they do daily. What sets them apart.”
That helped bring McKillop’s larger message into focus for Patton, a former defensive back for Division III Ohio Northern.
“Like he said, ‘Greatness is within your grasp,’ ” Patton said. “That resonates with us.”
The final three spots in the Chase are still up for grabs. Here’s what the contending drivers must do to make the postseason:
▪ Chris Buescher: 1 Win, 358 Points, 11 Points Ahead of 31st - Would Clinch a Top 30 spot on his own with 34 Points: 7th and no laps led, 8th and led at least one lap, 9th and led most laps), which would clinch him a spot in the Chase.
▪ Chase Elliott: 0 Wins, 659 Points, 312 Points Ahead of 31st - Would clinch on points with 24 Points:17th and no laps led, 18th and led at least one lap, 19th and led most laps), if there is a new winner. If there is a repeat winner:or a new winner and Chris Buescher falls out of the Top 30) and 17 Points: 24th and no laps led, 25th and led at least one lap, 26th and led most laps). If there is a repeat winner and Chris Buescher falls out of the Top 30, he clinches on points, regardless of finish. With a win, he would clinch a Chase spot on wins.
▪ Austin Dillon: 0 Wins, 651 Points, 304 Points Ahead of 31st - Would clinch on Points with 33 Points:8th and no laps led, 9th and led at least one lap, 10th and led most laps) and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner:or win by Chase Elliott or a new winner and Chris Buescher falls out of the Top 30) and Dillon would clinch with 26 Points:15th and no laps led, 16th and led at least one lap, 17th and led most laps). If there is a repeat winner and Chris Buescher falls out of the Top 30, he would clinch on points regardless of finish. With a win, they would clinch a Chase spot on wins.
▪ Jamie McMurray: 0 Wins, 642 Points, 295 Points Ahead of 31st - Would clinch on points with a repeat winner:or win by Chase Elliott or Austin Dillon or a new winner and Chris Buescher falls out of the Top 30) and 35 points:6th and no laps led, 7th and led at least one lap, 8th and led most laps). If there is a repeat winner and Chris Buescher falls out of the Top 30, McMurray would clinch on points, regardless of finish. With a win, he would clinch a Chase spot on wins. Could clinch on points with a new winner and help:cannot lose more than six points to Newman as Newman would hold the tie-breaker).
▪ Ryan Newman: 0 Wins, 620 Points, 273 Points Ahead of 31st - With a win, he would clinch a Chase spot on wins. Could clinch on Points with help (would need to outpoint two of the following if there is a new winner, or one of the following if there is a repeat winner (or win by one of these drivers), McMurray by 22 or more points, Dillon by 32 or more points, Elliott by 40 or more points). If there is a repeat winner (or win by Elliott, Dillon, McMurray) and Chris Buescher falls out of the Top 30, he would need 20 points (21st and no laps led, 22nd and led at least one lap, 23rd and led most laps) to clinch on points.
▪ Kasey Kahne: 0 Wins, 598 Points, 251 Points Ahead of 31st - With a win, Kahne would clinch a Chase spot on wins. Could clinch on points with a repeat winner:or win by Elliott, Dillon or McMurray) and Chris Buescher falling outside of the Top 30 and help:would need to outpoint Newman by 37:if he finishes in 3rd or higher) or by 38 points).
The following need a win to clinch a Chase spot on wins:
Ryan Blaney: 0 Wins, 573 Points, 226 Points Ahead of 31st
AJ Allmendinger: 0 Wins, 562 Points, 215 Points Ahead of 31st
Trevor Bayne: 0 Wins, 559 Points, 212 Points Ahead of 31st
Ricky Stenhouse Jr: 0 Wins, 551 Points, 204 Points Ahead of 31st
Paul Menard: 0 Wins, 479 Points, 132 Points Ahead of 31st
Greg Biffle: 0 Wins, 477 Points, 130 Points Ahead of 31st
Danica Patrick: 0 Wins, 467 Points, 120 Points Ahead of 31st
Aric Almirola: 0 Wins, 431 Points, 84 Points Ahead of 31st
Clint Bowyer: 0 Wins, 427 Points, 80 Points Ahead of 31st
Casey Mears: 0 Wins, 410 Points, 63 Points Ahead of 31st
Landon Cassill: 0 Wins, 368 Points, 21 Points Ahead of 31st
The following need a win and help to get inside the Top 30 in order to make the Chase:
David Ragan: 0 Wins, 347 Points, 11 Points Behind of 30th
Regan Smith: 0 Wins, 330 Points, 28 Points Behind of 30th