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Knaus Has A Different View Of This Season Finale

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 19 2010

Chad Knaus has arrived at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a strange position this week. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

It’s been five years since crew chief Chad Knaus arrived at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his No. 48 Chevrolet trailing someone else in the points.

Knaus and driver Jimmie Johnson have not only been leading the standings heading into the finale each of the past four years, they have been in relatively comfortable situations, leading by no less than 63 points (in 2006) and as many as 141 (in 2008).

But Knaus can still remember, at least vaguely, what it was like coming to Homestead in 2005 trailing NASCAR Sprint Cup series leader Tony Stewart by 52 points. It turned out to be a bad day for Johnson, who crashed out in 40th and wound up fifth in the standings, 127 points behind.

But that nasty memory has faded to virtually nothing in the wake of four straight championship celebrations for Johnson and Knaus at the Florida track.

Now the 48 team is in Homestead in second place, trailing Denny Hamlin by 15 points and with Kevin Harvick breathing down its necks, just 31 points behind Johnson.

It’s definitely a different dynamic for Knaus and Johnson.

“I think the biggest concern that I’ve got currently is that we haven’t gone to Homestead to truly race yet,’’ Knaus said. “We’ve gone down there with a bit of a protective mindset, so I think that puts us a little bit behind compared to the other guys.

“Denny, he ran top-five most of the race last year. They had a good pit stop at the end, got some good track position, (were) able to win the race and that was a good job by them. We ran 15th to fifth the majority of the day, but never really had to get ourselves in a position where we had to push the car a whole lot. So we haven’t had to be the aggressor there, so I think that puts us a little bit behind the eight-ball.’’

But Knaus is well aware that if Johnson leads the most laps and wins the race on Sunday, he beats the other two again, no matter what else happens. So, come hell or high water, he’s

Jimmie Johnson will need a big day on Sunday if he is to become a five-time champion. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

going to turn Johnson loose to try to win his seventh race of the season and second in the 10-race Chase for the championship.

“When we go to tracks for the first time and try to get aggressive with it, we usually do pretty well,’’ Knaus noted.. “So I think that it could be a good thing, also.’’

Two weeks ago, Texas was nearly a disaster for the 48 team. Pit mistakes cost Johnson precious track position and, in a very controversial move, Knaus swapped crews with the No. 24 team of Jeff Gordon after Gordon crashed out of the race.

Johnson did lose the points lead, but the team salvaged a ninth-place finish to stay solidly in the championship race.

The Hendrick team made the crew swap permanent for the final two races and Johnson’s new crew responded with a strong showing last Sunday at Phoenix, where he chopped more than half off a 33-point deficit to Hamlin.

Team 48 confidence is higher than ever this week.

“I think, after last weekend, the guys have got a little bit of spring in their step, and closing that gap, albeit by half as much as we truly needed, we were able to close it up some so that gives us definitely a fighting chance going into the weekend,’’ Knaus explained.

“And, honestly if we go down there and do everything that we need to do, we have the ability to win it. So (we have) a lot of optimism going into the race this weekend.’’

But Knaus does acknowledge things are different this year.

“Like I said, we’re going into an event … that’s a little unique for us since in years we haven’t had to get after it that hard there,’’ he said. “From that respect, it’s a little different. But, ultimately, it’s no different than what we do week in and week out.

“So we don’t have any more pressure on us than to do what it is that we need to do, and that is compete as be as fast as we possibly can. The pressure therein lies on the guys on the 11 (Hamlin’s car) because they’re in a protective situation where they have to be cognizant of what we’re doing and aware of what the 29 car (Harvick) is doing.

“For us,’’ Knaus added, “It’s really pretty simple: We just have to go down there and go fast.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 19 2010
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