“Now we are to the point where I can understand where it is and how off we are with the race car based on his body language and what he says and his feedback. And he can definitely see with my feedback and my body language and the tone of my voice, he knows what’s happening from my perspective and that’s always good. One, you can kind of be short and concise and everybody understands where you’re at; and two, if there’s something going on that you don’t feel like talking about, the other person may have a way to play out of the funk if that’s something like that. If a lot of different levels, it’s pretty good for us.”
Despite being surrounded by such extraordinary success including five-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup titles, 64 Cup wins and four wins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Johnson and Knaus continue to push and motivate each other.
“You just don’t settle,” Knaus said. “It’s kind of funny; I always am in just a semi‑state of a little bit of fear. I’m not going to lie. I don’t want ‑ I fear the fact that one day, we’ll never win a race again. I fear the fact that one day I won’t work with Jimmie again. I fear the fact that one day, I won’t have this amazing facility at Hendrick Motorsports to work in. And I try to work as hard as I can every single day to go out there and win races, because I know at some point in time, it’s going to go away. And you just can’t take anything for granted.
“As far as keeping our feet on the ground, it’s really rather simple with the group of guys that we’ve got. We all know that in seven weeks, this is all going away: This point lead, the momentum, the victories, all that is going to mean nothing as soon as we get to Chicagoland Raceway, and when we get there, we have to be on top of our.
“So to motivate these guys right now isn’t really ‑ the issue is making them realize that in seven weeks, they have to take their games to the next level and that’s really hard to do. Because if you sit back now and think that you can coast until Chicago, you’re sadly mistaken, because most important thing to do going into Chicago is to make sure you have momentum on your side, and that’s what our focus is.”
Momentum is definitely on the side of the No. 48 with a commanding lead in the Sprint Cup points race. But don’t expect to see this team go into cruise control. They hit the track every weekend to add to their points and to win races.
“We’ve had seasons that are very similar to this but I’ll be quite honest with you, I don’t feel our team is at ten‑tenths yet,” Knaus said. “We have got a long ways to go. There’s a lot for us to improve upon and we are trying to get better weekly. I think we are getting better but we have a long ways to go. So Ron Malec, he’s got a couple of new guys on his team that maintain the race car, and they are not operating 100 percent yet. We have had some small mistakes and we’ve had some small mistakes and we’ve had some small problems, one of which as recently as New Hampshire. We have got to get better there.
“So we have got, over the course of the next seven weeks, for us to be operating where I feel like we need to be operating, we have a long road to hoe.
“Yeah, it’s tough – especially for me. I’m not as educated as some of these new crew chiefs are. These guys are so smart that are coming into our industry. It’s a challenge for me to stay abreast as to what’s going on, just because things are changing so quickly. I didn’t go to college; I still can’t type. I one‑finger peck. It’s tough to keep up with what’s going on and you have to; you have to want to do it.
“I love my job. I’ve never once not wanted to get up and go to work. Now, I’ve sometimes not wanted to get up because I was tired, but I’ve always wanted to go to work and I’m very, very fortunate for that.”
It’s easy to understand why this team is so successful – combine Johnson’s smooth and stellar ability to drive a race car with Knaus’ “Mad Scientist” approach to being a crew chief and it has created Monster Success.
“There’s a level of confidence that everybody needs to be able to work within, and when we go to a racetrack and we make great calls on pit road, we make the right calls with the chassis and we go out there and we have a successful race finishing in the top‑10, top-eight, top-five, and Jimmie has done a good job and he has made good moves and he has made solid decisions and the pit crew has done solid pit stops, it just gives you a level of comfort to be able to go out there and attack,” Knaus said. “A lot of the decisions that we make, we want to say that we are so educated and we are so prepared; a lot what have we do is just off the hip.
“When you have to make decisions like that, when you feel like you’ve done a good job over a period of time and you’re comfortable making those decisions, if you got burned on pit road a lot, say you’re taking two tires and everybody else took four; you stayed out, everybody stayed in; you pitted, everybody else stayed out. You go through three or four weeks of that, when it’s time to make that decision, you’ve got all those scenarios passing through your head. You have this menu of options that are just flittering through and you’re thinking, which one do I need to do or I could burn here. Having good, solid races is really, really important.”
And it’s obvious that at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Johnson and Knaus are solid as a rock – make that, solid as a Brick.