NASCAR’s championship duo not such a great team on a bike path

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They’ve been through good and bad together since 2002, but there’s one thing reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus don’t do together — even after winning seven titles.

Ride bikes.

Johnson has helped spearhead a cycling community within the NASCAR Cup garage that includes drivers, crew members and even crew chiefs. The group rides on race weekends when the garage is closed. Johnson led rides at Daytona from the track to the beach. Thursday, Johnson was a part of a group that biked to North Wilkesboro Speedway. Among those riding with Johnson were Matt Kenseth and Josh Wise.

Knaus also has gotten into riding and recently told Nate Ryan in the NASCAR on NBC podcast about a particular time riding with Johnson.

“I don’t like riding with people or running with people,’’ Knaus said on the podcast. “I know it sounds weird. I’m a bit of a loner, I think most people know that about me. I use those opportunities to clear my head. I don’t want to be talking to Jimmie, who I’m trying to figure out how to make his race car faster, after he just made me upset while we were practicing or vice versa. I use it for alone time.

“We were in Kansas one time on a ride. I was not feeling well. Going up a climb to the top of a hill. I wasn’t doing well. He goes to the top, comes back down, ‘Hey man, are you going to make it?’ ‘Yeah, give me a break! I’m going to make it eventually.’ We take off, ride to top, get to next climb. He goes to top and comes back down, he says ‘Get on my wheel, I’ll draft you up.’ I’m like, ‘Go away. I don’t even want to ride with you right now.’ Huffing, puffing, not feeling well. I pulled over, sat on a log. ‘I’m going to sit right here until you leave.’ (Johnson says) ‘No man left behind!’ No, you’re leaving me behind.’’

Asked what he recalled of that, Johnson told his side of the story

“The cussing barrage I received made it very easy to leave him behind at that point,’’ Johnson said. “They’re steep hills. It’s a great park, lots of cycling, mountain bike trails, big reservoir there. He wasn’t feeling it that day and on these rides that I’ve been doing on Saturdays with everyone, I showed up as the weakest guy in the group. All the strong guys love the opportunity to climb more so when you get to a hill, they’ll blast to the top and they’ll come down and ride up with you and chat with you. I’ve always enjoyed it. Cool, they’re coming back to help me up.

“Chad found that completely offensive. Like, you think that I’m this weak, you’ve got to help me? No man, I’m being nice. I’m here to help you. I enjoy when people do it. ‘No, you get out of here.’ The second hill I came back down and he just stopped and got off his bike and sat down on a log. ‘I’m not going until you leave.’ Many colorful words layered in there. ‘OK, dude, guess you find your way back to the track from here.’ ’’

Although their experience wasn’t great riding together, they’ve been unstoppable at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the series races Sunday. Johnson has won the past two Cup races at the 1.5-mile track. Kanus’ pit strategy helped Johnson win last year’s race.

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