Chad Knaus unloads the No. 48 car at Las Vegas - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
Chad Knaus, crew chief on the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team of driver Jimmie Johnson, likes to push the envelope when it comes to the NASCAR rule book. Sometimes it works out for him, but sometimes it doesn't.
There used to be a saying in the NASCAR garage that went something like, “It’s not cheating unless you get caught.”
For crew chiefs who don’t get in trouble for their “creative engineering” or stay just within the rules, sometimes a badge of honor comes in having their work become the inspiration for new or more precise entries in the NASCAR rule book.
Knaus is the latest to receive that badge of honor. When his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team (driver: Jimmie Johnson) showed up at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February, the car Knaus presented on April 18 for opening day inspection had C-posts that NASCAR officials deemed questionable, at best.
As a result, the No. 48 team went to work replacing both C-posts on the car before the Feb. 27 Daytona 500. In the week that followed, Knaus was suspended for six races and fined $100,000, while Johnson and car owner Rick Hendrick were docked 25 points.
To make a long story short, Hendrick appealed and, for the most part, won. While the fine stuck, Knaus’ suspension and the points penalties were overturned, as Hendrick and Knaus claimed that the C-posts in question were within the gray area of the rules.
Hendrick, instead, insisted that the problem was a breakdown in the system.
“Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport,” Hendrick said in a statement. “In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process.”
As a result of Knaus’ “creative engineering,” Sprint Cup Series cars will be subjected to another new template when the series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the April 6 running of the Aaron’s 499.
While this “creative engineering” played somewhat of a part in Johnson’s dominance of the Sprint Cup Series, claiming five-consecutive championships between 2006 and 2010, is there a downside to Knaus’ “talents?”
If there is, it’s probably so minor that it’s unimportant. Sure Knaus has made significant enough modifications to the No. 48 car to be suspended on a few other occasions, but the No. 48 team always rebounds. After all, Johnson has won championships in seasons Knaus has missed races due to suspensions.
It appears the only drawback comes in the form of public opinion, and Knaus isn’t worried much about that.
“As far as my reputation goes, I’m not too concerned about that,” Knaus said. “What we want to do is go out there and do the best thing we can for Hendrick Motorsports, the best thing for (sponsor) Lowe’s and try to win races and championships.”
Knaus isn’t even the first Hendrick Motorsports crew chief to push the envelope to the point of NASCAR official ire. In 1997, Ray Evernham, then crew chief for Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team at HMS, showed up at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway for the All-Star Race with a car that prompted NASCAR to change its rule book soon after to prevent HMS from bringing that particular car back to the track.
Obviously, Hendrick likes his crew chiefs to push the envelope. Nowadays, it seems like nobody pushes that envelopes and challenges the rules more than Knaus.
Crew chiefs are expected to be innovators, making their race cars the best they can possibly be. Maybe that’s why Knaus is considered to be one of, if not the, best in the business. He definitely does push the rules to their limits to make the No. 48 the best he can possibly make it.
As long as it helps the No. 48 continue to win races, Hendrick will probably be just fine with defending his crew chief’s “creative engineering.”