Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus believes his driver still does not get the credit he deserves, following a record-setting fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
Knaus was once again full of praise for Johnson after the reigning champion drove to a second-place finish at Homestead, beating rivals Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick in the points battle by the narrowest margin of any of his title triumphs.
In all his previous championship seasons, Johnson had arrived at the last race of the year leading the points, while this time he had to get into attack mode in the season finale in order to beat his rivals and keep his title streak alive.
Johnson's crew chief expects that following yet another demonstration of superiority, his driver will finally get the praise he deserves, as Knaus thinks Johnson is not rated highly enough for his outstanding achievements behind the wheel.
"It's a lot of fun and well deserved because there's a lot of hard work that went into [winning the title] and I think it's definitely going to give Jimmie some of the praise that he needs for the type of driver that he is – a fantastic driver who really has not gotten the praise that he deserves," said Knaus. "I just think – and no disrespect to any of our elders or whatever you want to call them – the guys who raced back in the day, the Earnhardts, the Waltrips, the Pearsons, the guys like that; you hear a lot of what they say about the tenacity of those drivers and how aggressive they were and how they could do things with the racecar that nobody else could do. I think if you really sat back and looked at what this guy can do with a racecar, you would be pretty impressed. He's been in some pretty precarious situations and driven through them. He's put his nose in places that other people would not do and not be able to pull off.
"If you look at three-wide racing today and having the brains to go David Pearson style to back out and say, 'I can back off now, and live to race another lap and get those two spots back', [compared] to where other people go in there and bomb it in there and crash and beat off somebody else... I don't think he gets that.
"As a friend and as a teammate, I want to make sure that he gets what he deserves."
Two weeks ago at Texas, Knaus made the tough decision to replace his pit crew with the one from Jeff Gordon's team as the race was unfolding at the Fort Worth track. Gordon was out of the race after crashing into the wall following contact with Richard Childress' Jeff Burton and while Johnson's crew struggled with mistakes on almost every stop, Gordon's was available for a swap that remained in place all the way to the season finale.
Johnson's pit stops improved immediately after the swap took place and, although there were a couple of hiccups during Sunday's race at Homestead, the seven-man crew was instrumental in helping boost Johnson's title hopes. However, Knaus emphasized that even if the crew change added to their strengths, it was not the determining factor in clinching a fifth consecutive Cup title. Knaus pointed out how tough it was for him and his team to suddenly sever part of the group which had been part of their success up until then.
"It's all a tough decision when you have to make decisions for your team and it's going to involve the emotions and the feelings of your team members, guys you eat, sleep and breathe with, every single day when you're on the road, when you practice in the gym and at work, it's a tough decision," Knaus said.
"You know, this is a tough sport. It really is. I want to stress we did not win this championship because we switched pit crews. We won this championship because we are a great team. Those guys, they were struggling. And it's no different than any other professional sport. If you have a running back that's got butter fingers and he's dropping the ball, he's going to walk around camp all day holding a football until he gets figured out how to do it and he's going to get benched for a while. Same with a pitcher or whatever it may be, and these guys are professional athletes.
"It's not fun making decisions like that. One day it's going to happen to me. One day Rick [Hendrick] is going to sit me down and say, 'Sorry buddy, you don't have it any more.' And I'll be like, 'Jerk'... But it's going to happen. Let's be honest. And same thing is going to happen to him. It happens and it's just it's sad that it happened the way that it did."
Johnson and Knaus are arguably the most successful driver-crew chief paring in the modern era of NASCAR, having worked together at Hendrick Motorsports since Johnson's first full season in the Cup series back in 2002. They have achieved 51 victories plus five Cup titles together and only former crew chief Dale Inman and his driver Richard Petty better their joint statistics, having won seven titles and 198 races together.