The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Taking Chad Knaus Away, Loosening Lugnuts, And Chase Venting by Phil Allaway -- Thursday October 29, 2009

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Hello, Phil Allaway here. As you may know by now, Matt got married this past weekend out in Nashville, TN to his beautiful new wife, Rachel. He’s currently on his honeymoon in Key Largo, Florida, so we’ve decided to let him and his new bride have the week to themselves. But that doesn’t mean that no one’s going to be around to answer your questions. I’m here to take care of that.

Matt will be back next week, so if you guys have any questions, keep directing them right to him. Here’s your link. In the meantime, here are some of the best questions sent to Matt (and forwarded to me) in the past week.

Welcome, special guest writer (promise we’ll go easy on ya!). Here is my question, something to get us all talking. Jimmie Johnson without Chad Knaus is not a three-time (and soon to be four time) straight champ. What is his win total and championship total if he was at Hendrick, but not with Knaus? Yes, it’s hypothetical, but I’d like to know where he stands in the eyes of the media if that was the case.
— CBass, Oklahoma

A. Here’s the thing with this one… neither Johnson nor Knaus had ever really shown any indications that this type of performance would be possible in the Cup Series prior to them being paired up at the beginning of Johnson’s rookie season (2002). I had all but never heard of Knaus before he became Johnson’s crew chief. So to better discuss this scenario, let’s put down some background information.

Knaus has been with Hendrick Motorsports off and on since 1993. He started off working in the shop, and eventually became part of Jeff Gordon’s pit crew (the “Rainbow Warriors”) in the mid-1990’s. He moved on to be the Car Chief on the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet for DEI in 1998, and then briefly worked on the No. 45 10-10-345 Lucky Dog Pontiacs for Tyler Jet Motorsports before Ray Evernham handpicked him to head up the Dodge Test Team.

Once Dodge re-entered the Cup Series in 2001, Knaus then served as the Crew Chief for Stacy Compton’s No. 92 Kodiak/Levi Garrett Dodge for Melling Racing. This was not the greatest season ever, by any means, but Compton did claim the pole for both Talladega races en route to a 33rd place finish in the points. The best run for the team was a 10th in the Daytona 500, from which Compton started from the outside pole.

As for Johnson, he’s essentially dominating Sprint Cup like he used to dominate the CORR series back around 1998. But, in his two years in the Busch Series before entering the big leagues, Johnson won only once (2001 Tropicana Twister 300 at Chicagoland Speedway). He was a driver that was solid in Busch (8th in points in ’01)… but not great.

I’d argue that based on those past experiences, the chemistry between Johnson and Knaus plays a very large role in their success. If Johnson had driven without Knaus for his eight seasons with Hendrick, there would be fewer victories, especially in the first couple of years. By 2005 or so, he probably could have won without Chad (and he did win the 2006 Daytona 500 with Darian Grubb, while Knaus was suspended because of the violation found after pole qualifying). I’d argue that he would have one title, and he’d have something more like 25 career victories instead of 46.

The chemistry between Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus is nearly unbeatable. But there truly is no accurate way to gauge the success, or lack thereof, if the two would have stayed apart.

After Johnson’s second at Martinsville, I think it doesn’t matter what happens at Talladega. They say it’s the wild card race, but [even with a wreck] he could easily win Phoenix and Texas [the next week] (or definitely finish in the top 5). When he gets to Homestead, it will just be a matter of finishing better than 17th or something, [to win the title] and we’ve seen how that has played out before. Congrats to the 48!
— Paul Parks

A. I think it does matter what happens, especially if Johnson is unfortunate enough to get caught up in a wreck or have something break. However, since the track’s been repaved, the threat of a broken shock, spring, or other random suspension part is not as high as it once was. Blown engine risk is always there, and it’s increased now that the restricted engines turn 8,500-9,000 RPMs all day long.

However, if Johnson wins or finishes very well while other Chasers have issues, then you could claim that the title might be over (or be a two-man race at best).

I do think that if the championship is still in doubt in Homestead, it will likely be a similar scenario to what you described, Paul, but that’s mainly because it’s always like that when it gets to the last race. Johnson doesn’t have a good record at Homestead, mainly because he never has to try most of the time.

Hello. I have always been told, so consequently, have passed the same rule to a lot of tire changers over the years…

I’ve noticed something, especially lately, with the helmet camera the crew member wears that R-n-R’s the lug nuts on the pit stops. They all appear to tighten the nuts one after the other. I was told to always stagger them, like 1-3-5-2 and so forth, depending on how many there were.

I was thinking because of the length of time they run on them, it might not matter, one way or another, what sequence is used. Thank you for your time, but more so for the very interesting newsletters you and your co-writers send to us. It keeps us informed and happy.
— JeanW, Southern California

A. Jean, first of all, thank you for being a loyal reader of our Newsletter. We put a lot of work into it and like to hear positive feedback.

As for your question, I admittedly rarely notice this change on the broadcasts, mainly because I’m too busy taking notes on the rest of the broadcast for the weekly TV critiques. However, you’re right. This does go against the features I remember seeing on tire changing back in the 1990’s. It seems the pit stop coordinators of today feel that this strategy would result in a faster pit stop. This might be true because of less distance to travel in order to get to the next lugnut.

However, this does put a tire changer at risk of creating a couple of issues. One of these issues is doubling up unintentionally on one lugnut while missing another entirely. Also, with the speed required on these stops today, it might lead to the traditional issue of not getting all the lugnuts tight.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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10/29/2009 01:04 AM

Aw… you didn’t really answer JeanW’s question and I want to know the same thing.

She didn’t ask what the consequences of what they do are for the pitstop… she wants to know what the consequences are for the car in general.

As in, whats the reason we can’t get away with this on our street cars but they can on the stock cars?

10/29/2009 02:26 AM

I just wanted to say that Chad Knaus just said on one of the NASCAR shows a week or so ago when asked why Johnson didn’t run well in the Nationwide/Bush series when he was in it was that Johnson really likes to drive a car with the throttle. Which makes the CoT Cup car ideal for him (and even the old car) and explains why he wasn’t that good in the Nationwide series (too much down force without the horse power).

Also, when Jimmie Johnson was asked about the testing ban at the beginning of this year, he said that it was fine with him because if Chad had his way, they’d be testing 5 days a week. And as one of the broadcasters pointed out a race or two ago, they said that they were walking through the garage area a few hours before the race and the 48 team was the only team that still had 12 or so guys working on their car. Basically saying that Chad Knaus is a complete workaholic.

So basically, Johnson’s driving style is really suited for Cup cars. So as long as he has decent equipment, he is going to run well. And Knaus is such a perfectionist that he delivers rock solid cars and strategy.

The combo of the two of them makes them rather unstoppable. But I believe that if they were never paired up, they both would still be well known for winning races.

As for the lug nut question, I’ve wondered the same thing myself. They did used to always use a star pattern to tighten lugs. My best guess is that the technology behind making metals has changed so much that the lugs and studs are probably even stronger today than they were 20 years ago, but able to be less stiff so vibrations don’t effect them as much.

Samurai swords, Katanas, besides their shape, are known for their high quality of metal used… strong yet flexible. Without going into complete details, they fold the metal into itself several thousand times to get the metal just the way they want it. And then heat treat it a certain way. Today, we can go buy steel that has the same iron and carbon content right off the shelf. Then heat treat it via a computer controlled system to achieve the same, if not better, results than the true Katana sword makers can do.

Also, the star pattern for tightening lugs was to make sure that the wheel was flush. If it was still at an angle, you could correctly torque a lug only to have it be loose when the wheel was straigtened out. With the center hubs today, I imagine it is designed to make sure the wheel is completely flush with the tightening of one lug. I know that even on my ’94 Trans Am, this is true. The center won’t allow the wheel to stay crooked. 100 foot pounds of torque on the first lug will still be perfect after I put rest of them on.

But, as I said, this is all a guess. But it seems logical. :)

10/29/2009 08:42 AM

Special guest writer , is that the best question you could come up with for an opener ? After a rigorous investigation of Johnsons’ results without Knaus , lets look at the criteria used to decide that the 88 crew has been the best on pit road this year .
The lug nuts on a NASCAR car have always been installed in a circular fashion . Clockwise or counter- clockwise depends on whether the crewman is right or left handed . Its done that way for speed . Criss-crossing takes more time and isn’t necessary for getting the wheel tight . The torque of the air guns insures that the wheel is seated .

Peter DiVergilio
10/29/2009 09:00 AM

If one small imperfection hangs up part of the center of a wheel, the first lug nut will not seat the wheel flush. The second lug nut, when tightened, will seat the wheel, but the first lug nut will then be at least slightly loose, and maybe more. We were always taught to hit the lugs (or, at least, the first one)a second time to make sure they were all tight.
Modern metallurgy is a wonderful thing, but the verdict is not yet in on the modern sword vs. Samurai Sword. It is an amazing thing to see how these fine works of art and function are properly made, how many are discarded as not being worthy, and the dedication of the maker. All in all an awesome artifact.

Kevin in SoCal
10/29/2009 01:00 PM

Mark said: “lets look at the criteria used to decide that the 88 crew has been the best on pit road this year.”

That’s an easy one. Anytime there is a fan vote, the sheep always follow their shepard.