Can Johnson Sweep LMS Winston Cup Races?
Johnson, driving the No. 48 Lowe¿s Chevrolet, won both The Winston and the Coca-Cola 600 in May, a double Darrell Waltrip, Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon also accomplished. However, no one has gone on to score a ¿hat trick¿ by adding the 500-mile fall classic in the same season.
In order to accomplish the unprecedented feat, Johnson will rely heavily on the leadership and technical expertise of his crew chief, Chad Knaus.
In Johnson, Knaus has a precious gem that is still largely unpolished. When Johnson arrived in NASCAR, first in the Busch Series and since 2002 in Winston Cup, he was unversed in the technical areas many drivers are taught almost from birth.
What Johnson, 27, has in prodigious quantities is talent. It¿s Knaus¿ job to mine the precious metal contained within.
¿I¿ve started my NASCAR career trying to be as simple as possible in communicating what I feel,¿ said Johnson. ¿I don¿t have a lot of experience in stock cars, and even above and beyond that, I don¿t fully understand the way we¿re finding speed in these cars. I don¿t think a driver can come in and be like the past and say, ¿We need 25 pounds in here and this shock there.¿ There¿s engineering going into these cars for aerodynamics and mechanical grip, and I don¿t think a driver can really understand it all. All he can do is feel what¿s going on.
¿Chad brings the car with the best mechanical grip he thinks he can build it with and the best downforce package he can build it with, and it¿s kind of up to him to make it drivable so I can hustle it.¿
Johnson¿s praise of Knaus is hardly cloaked in false humility. Quite specifically, Johnson feels fortunate to have Knaus filling the gaps in his knowledge.
"Chad has a way of visualizing how the geometry works under the race car, and how the springs, the shocks, the sway bar¿how all of that stuff works,¿ explained Johnson. ¿It¿s amazing how, when you make a spring change somewhere, it affects all four corners, and he can really visualize how that will affect the car.
¿He can almost drive a lap in his head. He has an ability to know the adjustments he needs to make to complement what he does and what he originally did in the change before. I¿m very surprised he can visualize as much as he does without being on the race track. It¿s pretty amazing.¿
What comes naturally to Knaus is the visualization his driver finds so extraordinary. His challenge is the more tedious aspect of managing personalities and deploying the vast resources of Hendrick Motorsports.
¿Human resources is the source of my biggest challenge,¿ said Knaus. ¿My job does not consist of just turning wrenches and making pit calls. It consists of trying to find 70 great people who can jell, getting the most out of them for 38 weeks during the season and getting them prepared during the off-season to get Team Lowe's Racing to be the best. If I could just concentrate on the race car, this job would be a heck of a lot easier.¿
Knaus, 32, grew up in the Midwestern short-track town of Rockford, Ill. His father, John, owned a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series team.
¿From the moment I was old enough to go to the race track, my father had me there learning about racing,¿ Knaus recalled. ¿After a few seasons of racing, I decided I wanted to be the man that put the race cars together, not the one behind the wheel. By the time I was 14, I was the crew chief for my dad's late model in the Winston Racing Series. We won a few championships in that series and really that's how it all started.¿
Johnson says he can¿t imagine having anyone other than Knaus as his crew chief.
¿I just try to be simple and basic, and explain what¿s going on out on the track, and let him do the tuning,¿ Johnson said. ¿I think it¿s been very successful for us. Hopefully, we¿ll be able to stay together for a long time.¿
The Oct. 11 running of the UAW-GM 500 marks the first time the fall classic, which debuted in 1960, will be run under the lights at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway. Tickets start at just $19 and can be obtained online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.