The crew chief for Jimmie Johnson's Lowe's Chevy met with the media to discuss his team's approach to this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup showdown at Homestead.
Chad, could you talk a little bit about your team strategy and outlook for this weekend's season finale?
CHAD KNAUS: Obviously we're going into Homestead with a lot of optimism, definitely excited about the opportunity to be battling for a championship once again, proud of the fact that we've been able to put ourselves in this position a few times throughout our career, so that's kind of a neat thing, and definitely excited about it.
I think after last weekend, the guys have got a little bit of spring in their step, and closing that gap, albeit by half as much as we truly needed, we were able to close it up some so that gives us definitely a fighting chance going into the weekend, and honestly if we go down there and do everything that we need to do, we have the ability to win it. So a lot of optimism going into the race this weekend.
The other day Denny Hamlin was pretty vocal in his displeasure about the fuel mileage situation. I was wondering, when a driver does voice that stuff publicly, what happens next when he and the crew chief are together, and how do they smooth that over usually?
CHAD KNAUS: You know, I don't know how they do it. I don't know how Mike [Ford] runs his team. But we work pretty closely over here at Hendrick Motorsports to make sure that we have open communication and try to keep the drivers as informed as we possibly can to what's going on. So if Jimmie was to be displeased after an event about something like that, we would just get together and we would just talk about it.
I think the relationship that Jimmie and I have is good enough that at this stage in our career I don't think there would be a lot of bark to one another because we know that we're both going for the common goal of trying to win races and trying to run competitively week in and week out.
What does your driver do better than the other two contenders (Hamlin and Kevin Harvick), and is there something that the other two do better than your driver that you wish he was equal or as good as?
CHAD KNAUS: I think Jimmie ultimately is a better racecar driver than both of those two are. I think the way that – I'm not saying that he always is going to beat them on the racetrack, but I think week in and week out Jimmie does a better job of racing than the other guys do as far as passing cars and whatnot.
As far as what they do better, you know, that's a tough one because I haven't worked with those guys really that much. It's difficult to know if it's car or if it's team or if it's crew chief or whatever the situation is. So I really can't comment on that. I can just kind of see what happens from my perspective and what my driver does, and I think that as far as from a qualifying aspect, Jimmie isn't the best qualifier, never really has been, so I think I rely a lot on his race savvy to be able to race, and that's the thing that I focus on the most.
I guess it's difficult for me to even say that he's better than what they are. I just know from what he brings to the table for us, that's what his strength is.
A lot of people have said Jimmie winning four championships in a row has been what has brought NASCAR's ratings down. I know Jimmie adamantly disagrees with that. This year, the championship race, as good as it is, regardless of whether Jimmie wins or not, do you think that this should be something to ignite the passion in the sport again and get people excited?
CHAD KNAUS: I hope so, for sure. I feel that the economy as a whole has hurt our sport, and I understand that it's difficult for people to say, "Well, it doesn't cost anything to watch it on television." But I think the economy has hurt us from an attendance standpoint at the racetracks, although I have seen a lot of a rise in that here as of late, which is good to see.
I think that a lot of the problems that we've got from any type of sports, entertainment, recreational activity, is there's just a lot of options out there. It's going to be difficult, period, to pull in as many people when you can get so many snapshots of what's actually going on. You guys in the media are just as guilty as anybody else, as far as Tweeting throughout the races and keeping everybody up to date what's going on so they don't actually have to sit there and watch the race.
I think that's some of the biggest things that we fight. Everybody wants everything in 60 seconds or less – and the abbreviated version. Unfortunately, you have to play out through the whole scenario before you can even develop the abbreviated version. But I think that's one of our big problems, and there's just a lot of things out there for people to do.
In the '70s, '80s and early '90s, there just quite frankly weren't as many video games, there weren't as many sports to go view, there weren't as many sports teams, so the options were less. And I think that's probably what's hurt our sport more than anything.
How would you like the officiating to be done this coming week? It could be a green-white checkered. Maybe not as many debris cautions at the end of the race, longer green flag runs? Can you kind of comment on how you'd like to see it officiated and what you thought about NASCAR looking at the cars in advance?
CHAD KNAUS: As far as them looking at the cars in advance, I don't think that was really that big of a deal. They're just trying to head off any complications they may have. The car that the 11 team is bringing is the car they raced at Texas, so it was already there anyway, wasn't that big of a deal. The car that we are taking they've looked at a couple of times in the past as well, so that wasn't that big a deal. I don't know a whole lot about the car the 29 team took at all. So I don't really have any problem with that.
You know, they're just trying to be proactive and head anything off, obviously. The last thing that we want is for any type of controversy after the season is over with, and they want to make it that the team that hoists the trophy at the end of 400 miles at Homestead is the winner and everybody can just go on and have a good time and it's done. So I understand their angle on that.
I think that I have noticed that there has been less debris cautions here this little bit here since the Chase has started for sure. I'm perfectly fine with that. However it works out is how it works out. If there's a caution and it needs to be thrown -- if there's debris on the track and it needs to be thrown because it's harming somebody or it could be harming somebody then it needs to be thrown. If there's an accident, yeah. So I'll let them do the officiating and we'll do the racing and we'll hopefully just all come out happy.
You guys are known to be really meticulous planners, go through any kind of scenario, look at every detail getting ready for this race. What's the one thing that you look at that concerns you the most?
CHAD KNAUS: I think the biggest concern that I've got currently is that we haven't gone to Homestead to truly race yet. We've gone down there with a bit of a protective mindset, so I think that puts us a little bit behind compared to the other guys. Denny, he ran top 5 most of the race last year. They had a good pit stop at the end, got some good track position, were able to win the race and that was a good job by them. We ran 15th to fifth the majority of the day but never really had to get ourselves in a position where we had to push the car a whole lot. So we haven't had to be the aggressor there, so I think that puts us a little bit behind the 8-ball.
But then again, when we go to tracks for the first time and try to get aggressive with it, we usually do pretty well. So I think that it could be a good thing, also.
Jimmie has talked a few times about how he's blocking everything out right now; he's not reading a whole lot, he's not looking at stuff on television. I wonder, can you comment on his ability to sort of not over complicate things and how much that helps him in a situation like this?
CHAD KNAUS: Not over complicate things in what respect?
He seems like he's not a guy who gets overburdened with things, that he simplifies especially what he does professionally and it seems to pay dividends when there's so much going on around him and so much on the line.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, he does a good job of that. I guess the more you're in this sport, the more you learn to become numb to what's written and what's published and what's put out there. And Jimmie, along with the majority of the guys on the team, we honestly just don't read what's written. We don't look at the TV shows. We don't take part in a lot of that stuff just for the simple fact that it's just grief and a lot of propaganda. There's a lot of people who enjoy the drama, but we don't really get into it a whole lot. We don't get into the "he said, she said" stuff, we just let our actions speak for what we can do on the racetrack, and that's the way we leave it.
So this is not just a function of this championship – he's like this all the time?
CHAD KNAUS: For the most part, yeah.
How different is it going into this finale; instead of being the one chased for the first time, you guys are actually the ones chasing. How different is that for you guys after four years of what y'all have had?
CHAD KNAUS: It's different for sure. Like I said, we're going into an event that we haven't had to really race at, so that's a little unique for us since in previous years we haven't had to get after it that hard there. From that respect it's a little different. But ultimately it's no different than what we do week in and week out, so it's not anything out of the ordinary.
Look, the facts are this: We have to go to Homestead and we have to put every foot forward to sit on the pole and win the race, and that's no different than what we do if we go to Atlanta or Pocono or Michigan or wherever it is. So we don't have any more pressure on us than to do what it is that we need to do, and that is compete and be as fast as we possibly can. The pressure therein lies on the guys on the 11 because they're in a protective situation where they have to be cognizant of what we're doing and aware of what the 29 car is doing.
For us, it's really pretty simple. We just have to go down there and go fast.
And when you say being aware of the 29 and the 11 car, do you have someone specifically assigned to watch each one of those cars so you know exactly what they're doing all throughout that race?
CHAD KNAUS: No, like I said, we don't care. That's the 11 car's job to be worried about us and the 29. As far as us, it's really irrelevant. We have to go down there and get the best finish that we can and let it play out as it may. We can't go into a protective zone and say, "OK, we're just going to ride fifth and they're going to ride seventh." That's not how it's going to work. It's not going to be that simple for us. We're going to have to go out there and compete and not worry about them. That's the key.
Teams have races like Hamlin had last week where he has a first- or second-place car and winds up being hit by the fuel mileage situation. As a team, can you put that behind you last Sunday night and not have it be in your head this week?
CHAD KNAUS: I think you can as long as you have a strong team. If you start blowing apart your teammates or your crew chief or your driver or whatever it may be in a situation like that, then it's difficult to bounce back from. But those guys are a pretty stand-up, solid team. I think they're going to be perfectly fine. They've got great racecars, and they've got a really good driver, so I think that they'll show up at the racetrack at Homestead 100 percent and ready to go. If they don't, then they're foolish because they've got an opportunity to do something pretty special.
Is pit selection more or less important at this track than some other places?
CHAD KNAUS: It's important every place you go. Pit selection is very critical. You have to be aware of who you're pitting around, where you're pitting. It sets the tempo for a lot of things, so qualifying is very important.
And, definitely, that's one of the things that's bitten us here the last handful of weeks for whatever reason. We haven't been able to get the speed out of the car for qualifying like we have in the past. I don't really understand why or what's happened there. But we're going down some paths where we think we might be able to get a little bit of that back.