Redemption. That’s what Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 victory was for crew chief Chad Knaus. Knaus, was put in an awkward position last weekend at the Daytona International Speedway. He wanted to put his car obviously into the playoffs, but he also didn’t want to do so at the expense of a teammate and long time friend Jimmie Johnson either.
See, Knaus is still close with Johnson. He’s close with that 48 team in general. Knaus, steered that ship to 83 wins and seven NASCAR Cup Series championships over his career. When the stats started to decline, a change occurred.
Knaus went to the 24 team with a second year driver in William Byron in 2019. Johnson got a new crew chief. Last year was the first time that neither had each other. The pairing of Johnson and Knaus may go down as one of the best, if not the best, driver-crew chief combo in the history of NASCAR.
Petty-Inman, Gordon-Evernham, Johnson-Knaus.
So, when they split up, it was kind of an ego thing too. Knaus wanted to be known more of his talents than in Johnson’s shadow. Johnson wanted to show that he can still wheel a car without Knaus’ fingerprints over it.
Kind of similar to how the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick break out is going. Brady wants to prove to everyone that he’s not a system quarterback of Belichick. On the flipside, Belichick wants to show that he’s more to New England than a former QB. It’s Tampa Bay vs. New England for all 16 games this season to see who can outduel the other even when they don’t play each other. Do the Bucs improve with Brady? Do the Patriots regress without Brady? Or does the opposite happen?
Same for Knaus and Johnson.
Johnson missed the playoffs for the first time of his career in 2019. Byron, made the playoffs and was improved from 2018, but was an early exit.
For 2020, they both would have like to make a postseason run against each other. But, for both to make it in, they’d need some help.
Byron, went out and won his first NASCAR Cup Series race though in 98 career starts. Johnson, missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year. While this means nothing in terms of Johnson vs. Knaus, it was still an emotional and self gratifying win for Knaus on Saturday night.
“I wanted to get to victory lane with a car number, as a crew chief, without Jimmie Johnson on top of the door,” said Knaus during his media availability. “Nothing against Jimmie or any of that, but just to do it. To see if I could accomplish it. We’ve come close, we’ve had some really solid runs with the 24 car, not as many this year as we’d have liked to have had, but to be able to do this really means a lot.”
Knaus, said that this win was a long time coming for Byron. They were solid last year but not good enough to reach victory lane. Still, they finished 11th in the final points. Now, he’s got a win in the regular season finale and entering the playoffs with some much needed momentum. Can this propel them to a deep playoff run?
“And to be able to bring this team into the playoffs again, I think that last year we performed pretty well,” Knaus continued. “I’m really excited about the playoffs this year; I think we have some racetracks coming up that we’ll run competitive, and I’m excited about that. We’ll see how it goes.”
Still, whatever happens in the playoffs, Daytona will always be looked back on as to the turning point. They won a Duel in February. Won the Daytona 500 pole in their first race together last year. Now, a points win for the 24 team is the first for many members of this car.
“For me, it’s quite honestly probably a little bit more of a relief than maybe the elation of victory,” continued Knaus. “I’ll be honest with you, I really wanted to get to victory lane with this 24 car again, and to be able to it with the legacy that Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham started with this car at Hendrick Motorsports. To be able to get it back in victory lane, follow suit with what Chase was able to do in the 24 car, and then now to put William’s name up there is a really special thing. It’s a lot of pressure, but I feel really happy about it and definitely a lot of relief.”