The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season marks the 15th in which crew chief Chad Knaus will guide driver Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 team. With Knaus at the helm through the 2015 season, the No. 48 team has achieved six Cup championships, over 73 wins and several other milestones including the 200th Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports and record-breaking wins at Dover International Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.
Knaus also has achieved personal milestones along the way and is within reach of others. Notably, he’s the only crew chief in NASCAR history to have earned three consecutive championships – an accolade he achieved after guiding the No. 48 team to the 2006, 2007 and 2008 titles. All told, Knaus’ six championships are the most among active crew chiefs, and he needs two more to tie Hall of Famer Dale Inman.
Knaus’ crew chief relationship with Johnson is the longest running in the current Cup garage, as well as with one sponsor Lowe’s which has partnered with the team since 2002.
Knaus’ rise to the Cup Series started like most modern-day crew chiefs. Born in Illinois, his introduction to racing was immediate as he followed his father, John, around the local Midwest tracks, helping out when he could and anxiously watching when he couldn’t. His desire for racing continued throughout his adolescence. At age 14, Knaus’ future success in NASCAR was foreshadowed when he served as crew chief for his father. That year, the elder Knaus captured the Rockford Speedway championship with his son calling the shots from the pits. The father-son combination went on to many more victories, capturing the NASCAR Great Northern Series championship and finishing second in the Winston Racing Series.
After graduating from high school almost immediately moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in NASCAR. He took an engineering job, but ultimately realized he needed to relocate once more to make his racing dreams come true. In 1991, he moved to Alabama to work for Stanley Smith’s stock car team as a mechanic and fabricator.
Two years later, Knaus’ determination paid off and he was offered a position on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team in North Carolina led by crew chief Ray Evernham. From 1993 to 1998, Knaus assumed a variety of duties. He 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 the body development for the No. 24 car and served as a tire changer for the team, proving an integral part of Gordon’s 1995 and 1997 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 Rick Hendrick vowed that he would one day bring back Knaus. Knaus spent the next few years gaining valuable experience throughout the industry. He was a car chief at Dale Earnhardt Inc. for driver Steve Park before joining up with new Cup team owner Ray Evernham to crew chief Casey Atwood in 2000. The following year, Knaus was the crew chief for Melling Racing driver Stacy Compton, who won both poles at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
In 2002, Knaus seized the opportunity to return to Hendrick Motorsports and he was named the crew chief as the organization expanded to a fourth Cup entry. Knaus was paired up with rookie driver Jimmie Johnson, and the duo opened the season by winning the pole position at the Daytona 500. Despite some growing pains, Knaus and Johnson finished the 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 the No. 48 team continued to threaten for the championship. From 2003-2005, Knaus led the No. 48 team to 18 victories and an average finish of 3.5 in the final standings.
In 2006, their persistence was rewarded. Johnson won his first Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 trophies on his way to capturing his first Cup championship and the first for Knaus. Their success proved to be just the beginning. Under Knaus’ guidance, the No. 48 team went on to record a NASCAR-best five straight championships from 2006-2010. During the dominating run, the No. 48 team scored 39 victories, 81 top-five finishes, 117 top-10s and 17 pole positions.
Knaus’ team struggled to maintain momentum coming into the 2011 season, and the slow start combined with various misfortunes translated to a sixth-place finish in the final standings. Knaus coached Johnson and the No. 48 team to various milestones, including the closest margin of victory recorded since the inception of electronic scoring. That happened at Talladega in April 2012 when Johnson used a push from teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to cross the finish line .002 seconds ahead of runner-up Clint Bowyer.
In 2012, Knaus led the No. 48 team to capture Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th career Cup victory, when his team won on May 12 at Darlington Raceway. The victory was a boost for Knaus’ group, which closed out the year with four more wins and contended for the 2012 championship in the final race. But with 43 laps to go, a rear-gear issue sidelined Johnson and left the team ranked third in the final standings.
Knaus opened the 2013 season with a relatively new No. 48 team and a brand-new Chevrolet SS race car. Undaunted, the group won the season-opening Daytona 500 and recorded the first points-paying victory with Chevrolet’s Generation-6 race car. Knaus’ team remained ranked No. 1 in the driver standings for 28 of the series’ 36 race weekends and ultimately recorded its sixth Cup championship.
The 2014 season proved to be a challenge for the 48 team. NASCAR made changes to the Chase to the Championship format and the No. 48 team found itself on the outside looking in after the Contender round. It was the first time the team finished outside the top-10 in the final standings in its storied Cup career. Despite the disappointing finish in the standings, 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 and 20 top-10 finishes.
Although Johnson and Knaus were eliminated early on in the Chase to the Championship, the team compiled five wins, 14 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes. Johnson won for a record 10th time at Dover International Speedway and record sixth time at Texas Motor Speedway - more than any other driver. The duo have now come within one race of tying the late Dale Earnhardt for 76 career wins – which is currently seventh on the all-time win list. Other wins during the 2015 season happened at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Dover and a sweep of both events at Texas. The team also won a pole at the Phoenix event in November and finished the season in tenth place.
On a personal side, Knaus also got married to his wife Brooke during the 2015 season. In his free time he enjoys speaking engagements, cooking, cycling and snowboarding when he is not at the race shop.