Chad Knaus is the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS team of Hendrick Motorsports. The 2017 season marks the 16th season in which he will guide driver Jimmie Johnson as the duo look for a record-breaking eighth championship.
Knaus the only crew chief in NASCAR history to have earned five consecutive championships – a feat he achieved after guiding the No. 48 team to titles from 2006 through 2010. All told, the Rockford, Illinois, native’s seven championships rank as the second-most all-time among crew chiefs, one shy of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman’s record of eight.
Knaus’ crew chief- driver relationship with Johnson is currently the longest running in NASCAR, as is his relationship with full-season primary sponsor Lowe’s Home Improvement, which has partnered with the No. 48 team since its inception in 2001.
Born in Illinois, Knaus’ introduction to racing was immediate as he followed his father, John, to tracks around the Midwest, helping out when he could and anxiously watching when he couldn’t. His desire to race continued throughout adolescence, and, at age 14, future success was foreshadowed when he served as crew chief for his father. John Knaus won seven championships at Rockford Speedway, including four straight from 1987-90 against racing legends like Mark Martin, Alan Kulwicki, Rusty Wallace and Dick Trickle. A focus on success and leadership was engrained well before Knaus set his sights on NASCAR.
After graduating high school, Knaus moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in racing. He took an engineering job, but ultimately decided to again relocate to follow his passion. In 1991, he moved to Alabama to work for Stanley Smith’s NASCAR Cup Series team as a mechanic and fabricator.
Two years later, Knaus’ determination paid off when he moved back to North Carolina after being offered a position on the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team of driver Jeff Gordon. From 1993 to 1998, he assumed a variety of duties under the direction of crew chief and mentor Ray Evernham. Knaus started in the body shop as an assistant and gradually worked his way through the ranks to the fabrication department. Eventually, he was put in charge of body development and served as a tire changer for the team, proving to be an integral part of Gordon’s 1995 and 1997 NASCAR Cup Series championship efforts.
After the 1997 season, Knaus left Hendrick Motorsports to pursue his dream of being a crew chief. The organization was stocked with a solid staff, but NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Rick Hendrick vowed that he would one day bring back Knaus. He spent the next few years gaining valuable experience throughout the industry as a car chief at Dale Earnhardt Inc. for driver Steve Park. Knaus then went to work for Evernham Motorsports with driver Casey Atwood in 2000. The following year, Knaus was the crew chief for Melling Racing driver Stacy Compton, who won two poles at Talladega Superspeedway.
In 2002, Knaus seized an opportunity to return to Hendrick Motorsports as the crew chief for the organization’s newly expanded fourth Cup team with rookie driver Johnson. The duo opened the season with success right out of the gate by winning the pole position for the prestigious Daytona 500. Shortly thereafter, Johnson and Knaus achieved the team’s first victory in just their 13th race together at Fontana, California. The pairing proved successful as they completed a stunning rookie season with three victories, six top-five finishes, 21 top-10s, four pole positions and a fifth-place result in the championship standings.
The Knaus-Johnson partnership continued to grow stronger and threaten for championships. From 2003-05, Knaus led the No. 48 team to 18 victories and an average finish of 3.5 in the final standings. They finished second in both 2003 and 2004, followed by a fifth-place effort in 2005.
In 2006, their persistence was finally rewarded. Knaus and Johnson won their first Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 trophies on the way to capturing their first NASCAR Cup Series championship. It proved to be just the beginning, as under Knaus’ guidance the No. 48 team went on to a record-setting five straight titles from 2006-10. During the dominating run, the No. 48 team scored 39 victories, 81 top-five finishes, 117 top-10s and 17 pole positions.
The streak ended in 2011, with Knaus and Johnson winning five races but finishing sixth in the final standings. In 2012, Knaus led the No. 48 team to capture Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th all-time Cup victory May 12 at Darlington Raceway. The win was a boost for the team, which closed out the year with four more wins and contended for the championship. In the 2012 season finale, a rear-gear issue sidelined Johnson with 43 laps to go and left the team ranked third in the standings.
Knaus and his team opened the 2013 season with a brand-new Chevrolet SS. Viewing the change as an opportunity, the group recorded the first points-paying victory with the Generation-6 race car by winning the season-opening Daytona 500. Knaus’ team remained ranked No. 1 in the standings for 28 of the series’ 36 race weekends and ultimately recorded its sixth Cup championship.
The 2014 season proved to be a challenge. NASCAR made changes to the playoff format, and the No. 48 team found itself on the outside looking in after the second round. It was the first time the team finished outside the top 10 in the final standings. Despite the disappointing finish, the No. 48 team recorded four wins including its first win at Michigan International Speedway in 23 attempts. The team rounded out the season with 11 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s.
In 2015, the No. 48 team compiled five wins, 14 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s, but Johnson ended the season in 10th place. That did not sit well with the six-time champions, so Knaus set the bar high for 2016.
After finishing 16th in the 2016 Daytona 500, Knaus and Johnson won two races out of the first five. The team encountered a rough stretch that spanned over 24 races, but they dug in for the final 10 playoff races of the season. In October, they won for a record eighth time at Charlotte Motor Speedway and then again at Martinsville Speedway, securing a bid as one of the four teams competing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. History was made on Nov. 20, as Johnson started last and finished first in dramatic style – winning a record-tying seventh championship, matching the mark held by NASCAR Hall of Famers Earnhardt and Petty.Knaus married wife Brooke in 2015. During his free time, he enjoys traveling, speaking engagements, snowboarding and cycling.