RICHMOND, Va. – Until this week, the biggest free agent in the NASCAR garage remained unsigned -- and he wasn't a driver.
Chad Knaus, in the ninth-year of his second stint with Hendrick Motorsports, inked a contract extension that will keep him at the helm of the four-time champion No. 48 team and driver Jimmie Johnson through 2015.
While Knaus' plans appear concrete, Alan Gustafson, who signed a four-year extension this week, would not commit to what his precise plans would be after this season. The 35-year-old engineer, who was named crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet starting in 2005, would only confirm that his "goal is to stay with Hendrick Motorsports."
Although Mark Martin seems convinced that he'll be driving the No. 5 Chevrolet, Gustafson did not offer the same impression.
"I don't know what Mark's plans are for the future so I couldn't say anything about that. But unless Rick Hendrick sells these cars, then I would say this is where I will be."
While Knaus has set the standard for crew chiefs at HMS, Gustafson is considered one of the brightest managers in the garage. He produced solid results with Kyle Busch and in his 10th year under the HMS banner posted a career-best season with Martin when the No. 5 team finished second in the 2009 point standings.
Still, Gustafson's name has been mentioned as a possibility to lead the No. 88 team or stay with Kasey Kahne should he start his Hendrick chapter with the No. 5 team. Certainly, the pressure involved with leading the team that supports Dale Earnhardt Jr. can be daunting. Gustafson says he would be up for the challenge if that's what Hendrick and team management "deems to be the best fit for the company." However, Gustafson was more than warm on the idea of working with Kahne.
"I love Kasey," Gustafson said. "He is a great driver. I don't know him all that well but I love the way he races on the race track. He is a great fit for our organization. He is a great fit for the No. 5, He has the potential to win a lot of championships and a lot of races. It would be a great opportunity to work with him. He can put Hendrick Motorsports and the No, 5 in a good position to carry on what Mark has helped us build. I think it will wok out well."