NASCAR on NBC podcast

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet,  Chad Knaus looks on during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The three people Chad Knaus called on the night of his seventh championship

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Chad Knaus called three people on the night of winning his seventh championship with Jimmie Johnson last November.

One took some extra work – fitting because it was the person who validated his tireless dedication to pursue a dream: Ray Evernham.

“I know I woke his butt up, too, he was sound asleep,” Knaus said with a chuckle during the most recent NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I called like three times. Obviously, I’d had a few drinks and was feeling pretty happy. ‘Man, you better answer the phone.’”

When Evernham did answer, Knaus expressed heartfelt gratitude to the man who gave him his big break in NASCAR. Before becoming Johnson’s crew chief in 2002, Knaus started his career at Hendrick Motorsports in 1993 on Evernham’s crew with Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet.

“(Evernham) was a big part of me understanding what I was capable of and gave me a lot of opportunity to grow when I was young,” Knaus said. “When I moved down from Chicago (with a) brash, straight-to-the-point attitude, (it) didn’t necessarily fit with the Southern guys.

“It was the good old boys, take it one race at a time whatever happens, happens and have a good time. That wasn’t the way we raced in the Midwest with Rusty Wallace, Dick Trickle and Mark Martin. It was hard, hard racing. Coming down to work with Ray and the 24 car, he just reaffirmed that hard work, dedication, doing what’s right and being smart about decision-making process is exactly what will make you successful, and that helped me tremendously. He definitely laid the foundation which was awesome.”

Evernham is fond of often telling the story that when he hired him, Knaus told Evernham “I want your job within five years.”

Now at least statistically, Knaus has surpassed Evernham, who was voted the greatest crew chief of all time after winning three titles with Gordon.

“That’s what he tells me,” Knaus said of Evernham. “He tells me that all the time. I still have the utmost respect for him.”

The other two people that Knaus, 45, called after the championship?

His father, John (whom he served as crew chief for as a 14-year-old in Rockford, Ill.) and his wife, Brooke, who couldn’t attend the finale.

She was the first person Knaus called after fulfilling a few hours of postrace media obligations. “She obviously was in tears and having a great time celebrating with friends back in Charlotte,” Knaus said.

During the podcast, Knaus also addressed:

–His relationship with Johnson and why the two have managed to stay together through 15 seasons and win a record-tying seven championships;

–The importance of car chief Ron Malec, who has been with Johnson and Knaus since the No. 48 team’s inception, and why Knaus doesn’t like to hire away from other teams;

–What the legacy of seven titles means to him;

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 64: Chad Knaus

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After making history with Jimmie Johnson last November, crew chief Chad Knaus decided to get away from it all.

A trip to Uruguay accomplished that by removing even the temptation of connecting to the outside world.

“I never saw a television,” Knaus said about his vacation during the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “It’s not that we didn’t turn a television on, it’s that I never saw a television. Anywhere in the United States, any restaurant’s bar area has a TV or three to four TVs blaring sports or CNN.

“Down there, that’s not the case. It’s living life. It’s art. It’s the beach. It’s the fields. Watching the gauchos go out and rustle the cows and horses to bring them to the stables. It’s a really neat spot.”

The trip to the resort town of José Ignacio was suggested and planned by Knaus’ wife, Brooke, who is an aspiring painter (brookeknaus.com).

The couple spent much of the 10-day getaway exploring the artsy community that features sculptures, paintings and “the most random things you’ve ever seen in your life.

“Brooke found a beautiful place,” said Knaus, who hadn’t been to South America before. “The food was phenomenal. The culture is amazing.

“It’s one of the safest places I’ve been in my life. I really, really enjoyed the experience.”

During the podcast, Knaus also addressed:

–His relationship with Johnson and why the two have managed to stay together through 15 seasons and win a record-tying seven championships;

–The importance of car chief Ron Malec, who has been with Johnson and Knaus since the No. 48 team’s inception, and why Knaus doesn’t like to hire away from other teams;

–What the legacy of seven titles means to him;

–The three people he called the night after winning the championship and race in Miami.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Alliance brought success and mistrust: ‘There were times teams thought we were fibbing’

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 13, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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Rodney Childers called Kenny Francis last week, and the longtime friends who worked together a decade ago at Evernham Motorsports had a typically pleasant conversation.

But there are limits now to what topics can be broached between Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, and Francis, the former crew chief for Kasey Kahne who was moved to Hendrick’s technical director in 2014.

Since Stewart-Haas Racing’s announcement nearly a year ago about switching to Ford this season, its dynamics have changed with Hendrick, which had supplied Chevrolet chassis and engines to SHR for several years. After the announcement in February 2016, Hendrick continued to supply chassis and engines to Stewart-Haas last season but stopped sharing setup data.

“One reason I came here (to Stewart-Haas) was the relationship with Hendrick and Kenny Francis,” Childers said during the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “That led me to being here. All of that has always been good. Kenny and I are good friends and always will be.  On the other hand, we don’t like to be outrun, (and) they don’t like to be outrun.”

It was Stewart-Haas that had been outrunning Hendrick more often the last few seasons since Childers and Harvick were paired as a championship duo in 2014.

Last fall, Jimmie Johnson said the formidable pairing of Childers and Harvick “changed the game” and made Hendrick question whether it still was sensible to share setup data with a rival.

During last week’s podcast, Childers said the teams’ successes inherently created an atmosphere of mistrust at times.

“There were times it worked good,” Childers said. “Other times, other (Hendrick) teams thought we were fibbing about our notes, and we thought they were fibbing about their notes.

“It ends up just being a headache. We tried to always focus on the team and car.”

But when it worked well, the partnership could be unstoppable for both sides. Childers recalled an instance in which he duplicated the No. 48 Chevrolet’s setup in Harvick’s car at Dover International Speedway (where Johnson has a record 10 victories).

“We had the splitter heights wrong, and (Johnson crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was nice enough to send a sim file,” Childers said. “Next thing, we were fastest in (final practice). Those things happen.”

In the 2014 Southern 500 won by Harvick, Johnson used the No. 4’s setup after qualifying 26th.

“Halfway through, we’re leading, and they came from the back to second,” Childers said with a laugh. “They’re getting ready to outrun us with our setup.

“I liked the relationship. I thought it was fine. Some didn’t like it. Those (Hendrick) guys were great to me. It didn’t matter if it was the engine, chassis or whatever. No one treated me bad.”

In its switch to Ford this year, SHR has started building its own chassis, which made for a difficult transition but should allow more long-term autonomy.

“We’ve got to stand on our own two feet,” Childers said. “If I want a different chassis built, it’s easier to do that. We’ve got designers to do that and get it made and not share it with the rest of the world. Hopefully, it all works out.”

You can listen to the NASCAR on NBC podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Knaus will be the featured guest on Wednesday’s episode of the podcast.

Kevin Harvick knows how to push his team members’ buttons … and his crew chief does, too

Auto Club 400 - Practice
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Kevin Harvick’s public displeasure with his pit crew (most notably after a slow stop cost him the Southern 500 last season) has been well-documented.

Less well known is how normally mild-mannered crew chief Rodney Childers also can get upset with his No. 4 team’s performance.

That was evident when Harvick qualified outside the top 10 after reaching the final round of a playoff race last fall.

Childers wasn’t amused, as he explained on Wednesday’s episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast.

“I threw my chair and did everything (Harvick) would have done and may have even have acted like Kurt Busch for a minute,” Childers said with a laugh during the podcast. “But it’s just because we all care. If you don’t care, you aren’t going to make it. We have a good relationship like that.”

In an interview last October at NASCAR Plaza, Harvick told a group of reporters that he has “no problem pushing the buttons” of team members to motivate performance.

“I’m going to push everyone’s buttons,” Harvick said. “I’d expect them to push my buttons. That’s a mutual respect we have with the team.”

Childers confirmed he knows how to push his driver’s buttons and does when necessary.

“He knows when I’m mad without saying anything,” Childers said. “If I get quiet, something’s wrong.

“If I told him he’s getting beat in the corner or not getting in hard enough, he believes me. It’s nice to have that relationship.”

Despite the occasional public berating, Childers said Harvick “cares more about his pit crew guys than any driver I’ve been around. He’ll send texts to those guys, take them places. All this stuff, all the time.”

The No. 4 team won an intrasquad pit crew competition at Stewart-Haas Racing last week, posting stops in the 10.5- to 11-second range.

“We’ve got the right players,” Childers said. “We made a change later in the (2016 season) that fixed most of our (pit crew) problems, but it comes down to a company thing. We’ve been behind on parts and pieces. … You could see at the end of the year, pull up (pit) stops from Homestead, it was impressive. They’ve proved they can beat everybody on pit road if the guns stay with them. We made huge improvements over the winter.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 63: Rodney Childers says intentionally going slow was wrong move

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 26:  Rodney Childers, crew chief for the #4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
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When he met with crew chief Rodney Childers about joining forces three years ago, Kevin Harvick was impressed by what the crew chief’s goals, even if they seemed daunting.

Set the pace in every practice. Win every pole. Lead every lap.

Win every race. Win the title.

The approach has worked for Childers and Harvick, who captured the 2014 Cup championship in their first year together.

And per a recent tweet from Childers, who was the first crew chief guest on the NASCAR on NBC podcast this week, it remains the philosophy for 2017.

“Unless you have that mentality, you’re not ever going to do that,” Childers said on the podcast.

After leading more than 2,000 laps in the 2014 and ’15 seasons, Harvick dropped off to 1,384 laps led in 2016 and didn’t advance to the championship round after two consecutive appearances.

Childers said it was partly because the team drifted from the philosophy.

“At the end of 2015, I thought it was the wrong thing to do,” he said. “People were looking at us too much and end up focused on you. We were (having our car inspected at the NASCAR R&D Center) too many times.”

Childers said the No. 4 team tried to pull things back by having Harvick run slower for early laps in practice.

“It ate me alive,” Childers said. “I told these guys I’m done with that. We’re going back to the same things we said and be fast all the time. I’d rather have it that way.”

The pressure already has been ratcheted up with Stewart-Haas Racing’s switch from Chevrolet to Ford.

“Everybody in our group likes a challenge,” Childers said. “For me, I get bored after a while. You go through a switch like this, it makes you excited again. It makes you work harder. Makes you go through the details again. You look at every little thing.”

During the podcast, Childers also addressed:

–Why SHR’s relationship with Hendrick Motosports had run its course;

–How he pushes Kevin Harvick’s buttons;

–His former career as a driver.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.