By admin | November 18, 2013
By Richard Allen
Jeff Gluck of USA Today posted a piece in that paper on Monday morning calling Jimmie Johnson the greatest NASCAR driver of all time. This coming on the heels of the driver claiming his sixth Sprint Cup championship on Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The writer pointed out that Johnson’s ability to pile up race wins and championships during the sport’s most competitive era was evidence enough to bestowed the label of “greatest” upon him.
There, of course, will be many who both agree and disagree with Gluck’s assessment. Arguments can be made for the likes of Richard Petty, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. among others. But as the column linked above points out, it is difficult to argue with Johnson’s record.
However, there is more to the story. Every great driver has a support team behind him that allows for his greatness. And those support teams are headed up by crew chiefs. It would be difficult to label any driver as the greatest without taking a look at the man sitting atop his pit box and directing his team’s operations.
Cast your vote in the poll question on the right side of this page——————>
With that being the case, I believe an even stronger argument can be made that Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, is the greatest ever in his field. He has been calling the shots for the Hendrick Motorsports #48 from the time it began campaigning on a full-time basis. And, he has led that team during, as Gluck pointed out, the most competitive era in NASCAR history.
Under his leadership, the 48 team has won six Sprint Cup championships and 66 races since 2002(although Knaus was suspended during some of those wins, including the 2006 Daytona 500). Their best year came in 2007 when the HMS team won the title along with 10 races.
But under Knaus, the 48’s real trademark has been unbelievable consistency. Over the course of the last 12 seasons, they have never scored fewer than 20 top-10 finishes, with 24 being the top number on five different occasions. Quite simply, Johnson has always been in contention to win, or at least run in the top-10, with Knaus preparing his cars and making his pit calls.
And more than just preparing the cars, Knaus has never been afraid to take chances. Perhaps the best example this occurred in 2010 when, after a poor performance on pit road, he replaced the team’s pit crew in the middle of a race.
Of course, there will be some who contest the idea that Knaus is the best ever. Dale Inman(Richard Petty), Ray Evernham(Jeff Gordon) and the Wood Brothers(David Pearson and others) are some very worthy contenders for the title of best ever. But consider that Knaus is leading his team to almost unprecedented numbers of wins and championships in an era when such numbers are not supposed to be possible.
In previous decades, there were not as many teams capable of winning on a weekly basis as there are now. Yet, the 48 has to keep expanding its trophy case.
Some want to discredit Knaus’ achievements because of the Chase for the Sprint Cup format, saying that he can lead his team to championships by only having ten good races. That is certainly a viable argument. But the crew chief is merely playing by the rules set before him, just as Inman, Evernham and the Wood brothers did in their time periods. As a matter of fact, having to adjust to the new standards may even provide further evidence of Knaus’ adaptability and genius.
Some want to discredit Knaus because of the penalties he has received from NASCAR for rule violations. Crew chiefs are paid to find the gray areas within the rule book and exploit those areas. Find a crew chief who isn’t doing that and you will find a crew chief whose car is running in the back of the pack.
Chad Knaus is at the head of a team that is doing things not previously done in NASCAR history. For that reason, I have to believe he is the greatest crew chief the sport has ever seen.
This is coming from a person who was named after Richard Petty and who has always been a huge Dale Inman fan, but it is hard to dispute the numbers and the results.
What do you think?
Let’s talk racing. Follow @RacingWithRich on Twitter.
Topics: Articles |