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;
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