Around The Track: Chad Knaus looks cool and confident, but is it just a facade?

  • Article by: JENNA FRYER , AP Auto Racing Writer
  • Updated: July 24, 2013 - 5:05 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chad Knaus, with five championships and 62 victories as Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, always appears unflappable at the race track.

He walks with confidence, a purpose, and seems to effortlessly lead his team through times of crisis.

Is it really just a facade?

That's the impression Knaus gave this week in the lead-up to the Brickyard 400, where he and Johnson seek a record-tying fifth victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"It's kind of funny, I always am in just a semi-state of a little bit of fear," Knaus admitted. "I'm not going to lie — I fear the fact that one day, we'll never win a race again. I fear the fact that one day I won't work with Jimmie again. I fear the fact that one day, I won't have this amazing facility at Hendrick Motorsports to work in. And I try to work as hard as I can every single day to go out there and win races, because I know at some point in time, it's going to go away. And you just can't take anything for granted."

The duo of Johnson and Knaus has taken nothing for granted since they were paired by Rick Hendrick as the nucleus of the startup No. 48 team in 2002.

Knaus was relentless in his preparation and had Johnson in Victory Lane a mere 10 races into their relationship. There were three wins that rookie year, including a sweep at Dover that positioned Johnson as the series points leader with seven races left in the season.

Those victories and flirting with a championship made Knaus push even harder, and the next two seasons led to 10 wins and a pair of runner-up finishes in the title race.

There were four wins in 2005 and Johnson went into the season finale ranked second with a shot at the title. But the behind-the-scenes tension, fueled in part by Knaus' relentless drive, nearly fractured the team. A tire issue caused Johnson to crash in the finale, finish fifth in the standings and led Hendrick to force his driver and crew chief to examine their relationship.

Given the choice to repair their relationship or be split apart by the team owner, both Johnson and Knaus chose to continue pushing on together.

Five championships and 44 wins later, the two are the longest active crew chief and driver pairing in NASCAR and have shown no signs of letting up. Johnson heads into Sunday's race with four victories and a 56-point cushion over second-place Clint Bowyer in the standings.

Knaus believes the two have grown together over the last decade, and spend time together away from the track, as they did during the final off weekend of the NASCAR season.

"It's like any other relationship, it grows and there's an ebb and flow of good times and bad," Knaus said. "Jimmie and I have been very fortunate over the years to have gotten a good appreciation and mutual respect for one another. We expanded on that relationship again this weekend, so we've had a few of those opportunities where we've been able to have a few beers and play some reindeer games.

"Now we are to the point where I can understand where it is and how off we are with the race car based on his body language and what he says and his feedback. And he can definitely see with my feedback and my body language and the tone of my voice, he knows what's happening from my perspective and that's always good. It's a lot of different levels, it's pretty good for us."

___

RANKING THE WINS: Richard Childress has kissed the bricks at Indianapolis three times with three different drivers as a car owner.

He did it in 1995 with Dale Earnhardt, in 2003 with Kevin Harvick and 2011 with Paul Menard. Three memorable moments under three very different circumstances.

So which was most special for Childress?

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