Knaus, Johnson Rewriting Nascar's Record Book

November 22, 2009|By Tania Ganguli | Tania Ganguli,Tribune Newspapers

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - -Chad Knaus walked into his interview at Hendrick Motorsports in 1993 with his career carefully thought out. He wanted to be a crew chief by the time he was 30. He wanted to win a race. He wanted to win a championship.

Knaus didn't tell Ray Evernham all that when Evernham, then Jeff Gordon's crew chief, interviewed Knaus. Evernham asked about his long-term goals.

"I want your job," Knaus told him.

That was exactly what Evernham wanted to hear. So he hired Knaus and began what would become one of the greatest careers any NASCAR crew chief ever had.

Today at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Knaus and his driver Jimmie Johnson will attempt to win a record fourth consecutive championship. No driver has ever won four championships in a row, and no crew chief has won three in a row. The No. 48 team enters today's race with a 108-point lead over Mark Martin and needs just a 25th-place finish to clinch the Sprint Cup.

Few doubt that Knaus is one of the best. But he's no Dale Inman - yet. Inman won almost 200 races with Richard Petty and eight championships, seven with Petty and one with Terry Labonte.

"I was kidding him the other day," said Evernham, who won three championships and 47 races with Gordon. "I said, 'Hey, bud, how do you think I feel? I only get to be the greatest crew chief for two more weeks.' ... When you look at the numbers, Dale Inman is the greatest crew chief of all time because he had the most wins and the most championships.

"Chad's name certainly has to be mentioned, the problem with Chad right now is he's still new, still young. Five years from now, 10 years from now, people will go, 'That guy was the best ever.' "

Knaus, 38, became a crew chief at 28. He won his first championship with Johnson at 35. He's won 47 races with the No. 48 team.

"Chad's always looking for that one detail that's not always right or something that he can make a little better," said Andy Petree, who won two championships with Dale Earnhardt. "That's what sets him apart."

Evernham said there is no limit to how many championships Knaus and Johnson can win.

"He's going to completely rewrite the record books," said Tim Brewer, who won championships with Cale Yarbrough and Darrell Waltrip. "Championships, wins, all the categories that people judge you by."

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