NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Taking Chad Knaus Away, Loosening Lugnuts & Chase Venting

Hello, Phil Allaway here. As you may know by now, Matt got married this past weekend out in Nashville, Tenn. to his beautiful new wife, Rachel. He’s currently on his honeymoon in Key Largo, Fla., 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.

Q: 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-1990s. 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 in 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 (eighth 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 a 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.

Q: 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 five). 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 No. 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.

Q: 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 lugnuts 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 1990s. 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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