CUP: Knaus Begins Work On No. 6

Just 15 days after the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team won its fifth consecutive title, the Chad Knaus-led group was testing.

But the championship-winning crew chief wasn’t ready to divulge where.

“We’ll be at a race track,” Knaus said just minutes after the 2010 Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony ended Friday night.

In other words, it was time to put the headset on and get to work at the undisclosed track as Knaus prepares to go after championship No. 6.

Josh Wise was scheduled to drive the car as five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was given a break Monday and Tuesday from the test, designed to gather data for the 2011 season.

Knaus admits that it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the team hadn’t won its fifth consecutive title – “We had already won four championships; if we had gotten beat, would it have been a huge disappointment?” he asked – but it’s obvious he’s determined to pummel the competition in 2011 after his team appeared vulnerable this past season.

Even though odds will be likely be against his team, Knaus says a sixth consecutive title is a distinct possibility.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I really am. I think we’re going to take a better product to the race track next year. I’m really excited about that. Jimmie and I staying together again is the key to the success of the 48 and we’re going down that path. I don’t know why we couldn’t [win a sixth].”

It starts with the test this week. Whether Knaus finds anything he will use at the start of the 2011 season, though, remains to be seen.

“It’s definitely not easy,” Knaus said. “This sport evolves very, very quickly. And the kicker of this is that is as it evolves, the rules consistently change. So if you find an advantage, if you find an area where your team is working better than other teams and you’re faster, it’s not going to be too long before it gets taken away anyway [by NASCAR].

“It’s a very difficult sport to find an advantage. And then once you find it, to keep it is even more difficult.”

Knaus said his Hendrick team didn’t have much in its back pocket for the Chase in 2010. Five years ago, the team found something it could do with the shocks but NASCAR outlawed it two weeks into the Chase.

“You learn as you go and you grow, you learn when to bring things out and when to run different things and when to show your hand,” Knaus said. “This year, we didn’t have a whole lot to show. We were going with everything we had just about all year long and were trying to find some new advantages.”

So Knaus will spend his offseason working on new things and plotting a course. It is a course that will have some similarities – for instance, his team likely won’t worry much about summer slumps, which it has endured in recent years.

“Everybody understands that the most important races are the 10 races at the end of the season,” Knaus said. “So if you get yourself in a position that you’re going to make the Chase, what you do is you just focus to improve to get to that point.

“The guys that really hurt are the guys that are struggling to make the Chase because they’re throwing every fast pitch they’ve got every single throw and they get worn out by the time they get to the Chase.”

While intense, Knaus says he plans to “eject” himself from Hendrick for a little bit of December so he can recharge and refocus.

Will he reflect on this season and realize what he’s accomplished? Maybe, but probably not.

“I’m not going to know anything about any of this for 20 years,” Knaus said. “That’s when it’s all going to come to a head to be able start to understand it, when I’m able to relax and eject from this system and feel what it’s about.

“When you’re in the middle of it, you love it, you enjoy it, it’s thrilling, it’s exciting and it’s a lot of fun but I don’t think you can really identify with what is truly happening until we get further removed.” • NASCAR moves 2011 Hall of Fame induction ceremony from Sunday afternoon to Monday night following All-Star weekend