Since he locked up his fifth straight championship, there has been this concern about Jimmie Johnson – Many people don’t appreciate his accomplishments or recognize him for being one of the sport’s all-time great drivers.
But what about his running mate? Crew chief Chad Knaus, who has engineered Johnson’s success and has been around for all five titles, probably hasn’t received enough attention, either (unless one counts the near-constant attention from NASCAR inspectors).
Knaus is the only Sprint Cup crew chief with five straight championships. In fact, he’s also the only one with four straight and three straight titles.
In 321 races with Johnson, his total is 198 top 10s. Pretty remarkable numbers.
“I think that as time goes on, people will really look back and appreciate what we have done as a team,” Johnson said. “And the way I feel for Chad, the way I feel for my team and these guys that put their heart and soul into this, they cannot get enough attention, respect, their fair share of compliments. It is impossible, because it is a team sport.
“My team makes this happen. I’m lucky that I get to climb in there and drive the wheel. I’m a piece of the puzzle. He (Knaus) deserves everything he gets and even more. I think it’s tough to really look at it when we are in the moment, but some day when we are retired and we come back and we are making crazy comments like DW (Darrell Waltrip) and Jeff Hammond, guys will say, ‘Wow, you guys did X, Y and Z.’ ”
Although he occasionally has been in trouble with NASCAR police, Knaus has established himself as the resident evil genius in the garage area, the guy people look to for innovation and methodology that dance right on the edge of legal.
He and Johnson have meshed perfectly. It was no surprise that, two days after the end of the season, as team owner Rick Hendrick started a big merry-go-round by changing the crew chief at three of his Sprint Cup teams that he left Knaus and Johnson alone.
If they stay together, it’s easy to imagine them tying the Cup record for championships – seven, owned by the late Dale Earnhardt and the retired Richard Petty – and maybe even going beyond.
What they’ve already done defies accurate description.
“I’m not going to know anything about any of this for 20 years,” Knaus said. “I think that’s when it’s all going to come to a head and I’ll be able to start to understand, 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 and a lot of fun, but I don’t think you really can identify what has really happened until we get further removed.”
Johnson has voiced similar thoughts, saying it’s difficult to put five straight championships in perspective while you’re driving in them.
This sort of excellence is best viewed from the vantage point of history.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.