chad knaus

Bump and Run: Was Chad Knaus wrong to goad William Byron to retaliate?

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Was Chad Knaus wrong to essentially tell William Byron to stand up for himself vs. Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen and hit Busch’s car?

Nate Ryan: Yes, as Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America, Knaus has a greater responsibility as not just a crew chief but mentor for the 21-year-old Byron. While encouraging his driver to be assertive was fine, demanding a specific course of action that put his car at risk was unwise with Byron, who will follow orders from a seven-time champion crew chief with an overachiever’s zeal.

Dustin Long: Yes. One of the things you often hear is that drivers shouldn’t let spotters drive the car. The same standard should be applied to crew chiefs. Emotion should not dictate decisions.  Chad Knaus’ comments over the radio — where every team member could hear the order — put Byron in a corner. If he didn’t follow through, would his team feel as though Byron wasn’t doing all he could to defend them? That doesn’t help team dynamics. Of course, going off to hit somebody and possibly damage one’s car doesn’t do anyone any good. Busch saw Byron coming from behind, slammed the brakes and that increased the damage to Byron’s car when he struck Busch. This all could have been avoided if people — starting with Knaus — had better control of their emotions.

Daniel McFadin: While it maybe didn’t work in execution, I think it had the desired impact Knaus was seeking: A teaching moment where a veteran crew chief told a young driver to stand up for himself. Byron proved under his nice guy demeanor is someone who isn’t a pushover.

Jerry Bonkowski: No. Knaus was merely getting Byron to stand up for himself. While the delivery of that message went awry and Byron wrecked his own car — and his chances of winning — it still is refreshing to see Byron send a message to both Kyle Busch and the rest of the Cup Series that he won’t be pushed around. Byron has been somewhat tentative at times since coming to the Cup Series. This could be a watershed moment for him. 

Biggest shock at Watkins Glen: Bubba Wallace’s actions and comments about his incident with Kyle Busch? Jimmie Johnson’s comments about Ryan Blaney? Something else?

Nate Ryan: Wallace’s comments were nearly as striking as his revenge on Busch, and the latest in a series of high-profile incidents that are ensuring the No. 43 driver’s relevance even without results.

Dustin Long: Bubba Wallace’s comments were attention grabbing, but what Jimmie Johnson had to say about Ryan Blaney was more personal than we’ve seen the seven-time champion often go with a competitor. That provided the greatest shock value. It just shows the pressure Johnson and the No. 48 team feel in their bid to make the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: Johnson’s comments for sure. The only other time I can remember him having even a mild post-race interaction with another driver was with Kurt Busch at Pocono in 2011. “Just keep filing things away. I remember this stuff,” Johnson said then. “There’s a couple of guys out there that have been pushing their luck, too.”

Jerry Bonkowski: I lean toward Bubba. The irony is Kyle Busch gave Bubba his first big chance and first full-time NASCAR ride in the Truck Series in 2013 and 2014. Still, Wallace had the right to stand up for himself and wasn’t going to be pushed around or intimidated by his former boss. Something tells me, though, that this isn’t the end of the Busch-Bubba feud. Rather, it may just be getting started.

If one race is enjoyable, should NASCAR consider a doubleheader weekend at Watkins Glen in the future?

Nate Ryan: Love the idea, though it probably would require striking a race from another track. If NASCAR were open to the concept, there are some ISC tracks that should have only one race (namely, Michigan).

Dustin Long: Let’s calm down folks. Let’s wait to see how this plays out at Pocono next year. Let the bugs get worked out on the doubleheader weekend schedule and then take a hard look at it. An issue at Watkins Glen is the cars take such a beating on the curbs that teams might need another car to run the second race there. Is that feasible for all teams ˜to have a second car race ready? Let’s just see what needs to be done before running off and adding a race to that weekend at the Glen.

Daniel McFadin: Yes, please. Watkins Glen is a relatively short race. At 90 laps and with four cautions, Sunday’s race only took 2 hour and 14 minutes to complete. If the Pocono doubleheader is successful, the Glen should be the next candidate. 

Jerry Bonkowski: While I normally would say yes, this is a unique instance. Sure, Watkins Glen is a great track and great venue to watch a race. But at the same time, why give WGI (or Sonoma or the Roval) a second date on a doubleheader weekend when the Cup Series could expand its road course footprint to other tracks such as Road America, Road Atlanta, Barber Motorsports Park or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course? I definitely like the doubleheader weekend concept and hope NASCAR adds more to the schedule, but the tracks chosen and the reasons to do so have to make the most sense.

Watkins Glen winners and losers

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WINNERS

Chase Elliott He won both stages and the race, leading 80 of 90 laps. He led the final 28 laps with Martin Truex Jr. pressuring him most of that time. Elliott had the fastest car all weekend and took advantage of it to score his second victory of the season.

Drama — Where to begin? There was Kyle Busch vs. William Byron and then Busch vs. Bubba Wallace, who was blunt on what he thought of his former Truck Series owner’s actions on the track. You had Jimmie Johnson upset at Ryan Blaney and getting personal afterward, saying: “I couldn’t hear what (Blaney) was saying, his lips were quivering so bad.” In the Xfinity Series, Justin Allgaier dumped Ross Chastain after Chastain had wrecked him. There are a lot of angry drivers out there.

Matt DiBenedettoHis sixth-place finish was his fourth top-10 in the last seven races for Leavine Family Racing. DiBenedetto is unsure where he’ll be racing next season and admits that “I’m just fighting for my life, my career.”

Parity — Chase Elliott became the ninth different winner in the last nine races. The other winners in the stretch have been Kyle Busch (Pocono I), Joey Logano (Michigan), Martin Truex Jr. (Sonoma), Alex Bowman (Chicagoland), Justin Haley (Daytona), Kurt Busch (Kentucky), Kevin Harvick (New Hampshire), Denny Hamlin (Pocono II) and Elliott.

Austin Cindric and Brian Wilson — Wilson made the gusty call to pit Cindric from the lead with 10 laps to go and then Cindric charged through the field to challenge and pass AJ Allmendinger to score his first series win. Asked about possibly making his move too soon, Cindric said: “If you have that opportunity right in front of you to pass that guy for the win, you take it every single time.”

LOSERS

Chad Knaus — All but commanding William Byron on the radio to retaliate against Kyle Busch  – “If I see that 18 come back around here without you knocking the (expletive) out of him, we’re going to have a problem” – led to Byron’s downfall. Byron’s car slammed into the back of Busch’s car and suffered nose damage. Instead of having a car to contend for the top 10 — the Hendrick cars were fast all weekend — Byron finished 21st.

Kyle Busch — Had the best car by far in Saturday’s Xfinity race until a mechanical issue ended his day. Then in the Cup race he got into it with Millennials William Byron and Bubba Wallace. The result is that instead of contending for a win, Busch’s battered car finished 11th and was never a factor. Asked to explain what happened, Busch said only “you saw what happened” before the golf cart he was on left.

Austin DillonHis 31st-place finish marked the fourth time in the last five races he’s placed 30th or worse. He has finished 30th or worse in more than a quarter of the races this season (six of 22).

William Byron drops the hammer with ‘Days of Thunder’ scheme for Southern 500

Darlington Raceway
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William Byron will pay tribute to Cole Trickle with his paint scheme for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 1 on NBCSN).

Yes, Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet will be made up to look like the one of the cars the fictional NASCAR driver drove in the 1990 movie “Days of Thunder.”

Byron unveiled the scheme today on social media with a spoof of the scene that introduced Trickle – played by Tom Cruise – in the movie. In the place of Robert Duvall’s Harry Hogge is crew chief Chad Knaus.

Here’s the original scene in all its Tony Scott-directed glory.

The City Chevrolet sponsorship on Byron’s car is the real deal. It’s a Rick Hendrick car dealership located in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hendrick Motorsports was heavily involved in the production of “Day of Thunder,” consulting on the film and also providing the cars that were used. Randy Quaid’s character Tim Daland is based on Hendrick.

While the paint scheme getting used for the Throwback Weekend is cool by itself, it being raced at Darlington adds another level to it.

In “Days of Thunder,” Trickle earns his first career win in a race at the track “Too Tough to Tame” with this scheme.

While it’s entirely possible Byron could earn his own first career Cup win in the three races before the Southern 500, there’d be no better way to honor Trickle than by getting it under the lights at Darlington.

Byron won’t be the only driver boasting a scheme from the movie at Darlington.

Over in the Xfinity Series, Jeremy Clements‘ No. 51 Chevrolet will look like the No. 51 Exxon car that Rowdy Burns drove in the movie.

“I grew up watching Days of Thunder all the time especially headed to Buck Creek Speedway in our cube van that my Grandpa Crawford built, and it would really get me pumped up to race.” Clements said in a press release. “I love this movie so much so that’s where I got the No. 51 from and have had it ever since.”

Bump and Run: Is inverting the starting lineup a good idea?

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The starting lineup for the second Pocono Cup race on the doubleheader weekend there next year will be set by inverting the lead-lap finishers from the first race. What do you think of that decision?

Dustin Long: I’m fine with it. The distance for the second race will be long enough (350 miles) that those in the back will have a chance to work up to the front. Hey, it’s not like this is has never been done in racing. Short tracks around the country invert their starting fields in features. I’m all for new ideas in NASCAR and seeing if they work.

Daniel McFadin: I’m completely fine with it. Since teams will be using the same cars in both races, it helps ensure we don’t see similar versions of the same race play out over the course of the two days. Also, it may give teams that don’t see the front of the pack hardly ever at least some time in the spotlight. Had this been done this year, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez would have started on the front row in a hypothetical second race.

Jerry Bonkowski: While I like the idea in theory, in practice it could be suspect. What happens if a driver in the first race has no chance of winning and decides late in the race to slow down and falls in terms of positions – yet stays on the lead lap – to give himself a better start in the Sunday race? Fans, media and other teams could have a problem with that. It will be interesting to see how this experiment works, especially if we see more doubleheader weekends at other tracks in the future.

Nate Ryan: It’s a good twist, though it might need some tweaking (as Jerry notes above).

 

Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement Monday that it was changing crew chiefs on Jimmie Johnson’s team marks only the second time since 2010 that the organization has made an in-season crew chief change. What do you think of the move?

Dustin Long: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are not just about making the playoffs. They are about winning championships. Who would consider this group a championship contender at this moment? There’s your answer on the need to make the change at this point of the season.

Daniel McFadin: My first reaction upon reading Cliff Daniels’ bio and his history with the No. 48 team was why wasn’t he the first choice to replace Chad Knaus? It seems to me it would have allowed for a much smoother transition into the post-Knaus era for Johnson. It’s fascinating that a seven-time Cup champion is now paired with the youngest crew chief in the series, the opposite of the pairing between Knaus and William Byron, who is the youngest full-time Cup driver.

Jerry Bonkowski: Something had to be done, otherwise Johnson will not make the playoffs. And there’s no guarantee that a new crew chief will accomplish just that. When I first heard of the crew chief change, my first thought was Chad Knaus was coming back with Jimmie. If anyone could get Johnson into the playoffs, it’s Knaus. But I’ll be optimistic that Cliff Daniels will be up to the task and hope for the best.

Nate Ryan: The timing is curious — a road course race in the midst of a playoff points battle hardly seems the optimum place for a crew chief’s Cup debut — but the reasoning is simple. As he strongly hinted after New Hampshire, Johnson had reached the performance ceiling with the leadership of his current team after 21 races.

 

The Cup series is up to eight different winners in the last eight races. Will the streak continue this weekend at Watkins Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)?

Dustin Long: Streak continues. Even though the top four in points have won during this stretch, there are enough drivers who can win at the Glen. Throw in some clever strategy and that could open the opportunities to a few others.

Daniel McFadin: My gut feeling is we’ll see the streak end, but Erik Jones is on a hot streak now and he finished fifth at the Glen last year. If it does continue, it’ll be through him.

Jerry Bonkowski: I thought for sure the streak would end at Pocono, but it didn’t. Because Watkins Glen is more of an equalizing race than most races on conventional ovals, I think it’s likely we could see a ninth consecutive different winner. But that will likely be the final race for this streak before it’s broken the following week at Michigan.

Nate Ryan: Between Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano, there will be too many strong contenders to keep the string alive. Brad Keselowski will have a fighting chance, though.

Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve questioned myself’ in quest to win again

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CONCORD, N.C. — In the midst of a career-long winless streak, Jimmie Johnson has questioned everything.

“You just start searching,” Johnson said, standing next to new crew chief Cliff Daniels in the Hendrick Motorsports race shop.

The seven-time champion sits outside a playoff spot with five races to go. While there have been some encouraging performances — Johnson scored pair of top-five finishes in the last month — the results show an 80-race winless streak that dates to June 2017.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Johnson said. “I also know that I’m part of the problem of why the car hasn’t had the success that it’s accustomed to having. I don’t think I’m the problem, but I know I’m a part of it and part of the solution.

So I’m all ears and always studying my teammates to try to figure out what I can do better. All ears to the staff that sits in that transporter and feeds me info. We’re all ready and hungry to get to the track.”

Jimmie Johnson is outside a playoff spot heading to Watkins Glen. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Johnson enters Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 12 points out of the final playoff spot. He’s there after finishes of 30th (Kentucky), 30th (New Hampshire) and 15th (Pocono) in the past three races.

He takes the blame for the crash at Kentucky while running in the top 10. A mechanical issue while in the top 10 ruined his race at New Hampshire. Johnson scored his first stage victory of the season at Pocono but he only gained five points on the final playoff spot.

Johnson admits he’s been honest with himself as he’s watched others celebrate victories he once did.

Am I stuck in a way that I’m not open-minded to change?” Johnson said. “Of late, I feel like I’ve probably been trying too hard and it’s very easy to try too hard.

“I’ve questioned myself. Do I talk too much? Do I overanalyze things too much? Am I confusing the engineers, the crew chief with the level of sensitivity I have in the car? At one point I felt that was a huge strength that I had. Now has it flipped? Now am I focused on too many small details and not worried about the big things? I’ve been bouncing around with various approaches on those three areas and I feel like I’m in a much better place in confidence as the year has went on.”

That confidence grows with Daniels as the crew chief. Daniels, who replaces Kevin Meendering, was one of Johnson’s race engineers from Dec. 2014-2018 before moving in-house at Hendrick Motorsports. Daniels returned to the team in June at Sonoma Raceway. Johnson said Daniels’ return created a spark that lifted the team. They both said that their previous time working together helps Daniels better understand Johnson entering this pivotal period.

Johnson has never missed NASCAR’s postseason since it debuted in 2004. He’s the only driver who can claim that. That streak is in jeopardy because of a season awash in disappointment. He’s not had more than back-to-back top-10 finishes this season.

“With five races to go, I think we would certainly be disappointed in our ourselves … if we hadn’t done everything we could possibly do at this point in time to get Jimmie and this team and (sponsor) Ally into the playoffs,” said Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, of the crew chief change coming now.

Cliff Daniels became Jimmie Johnson’s new crew chief Monday. (Photo: Hendrick Motorsports)

The result was only the second in-season crew chief change Hendrick Motorsports has made since 2010. The other in-season crew chief change made by HMS during that time was in 2017 when Darian Grubb replaced Keith Rodden as Kasey Kahne’s crew chief with nine races left in the 2017 season.

With the challenges Johnson has faced and will face in the coming weeks, Daniels says that Johnson’s “fire is so intense right now.”

“If you look at the last four or five weeks, we have been top 10 or better contenders every time. Is that where we want to be? Absolutely not. We don’t just have expectations, we have the highest expectations on the 48. So just being a top 10 team isn’t good enough.”

Daniels’ elevation is part of the next stage for Johnson, who is in his first Cup season without having Chad Knaus as his crew chief. While Meendering is no longer Johnson’s crew chief, he played a valuable role to the driver.

“I think this year in working with Kevin and his support and the way he’s believed in me as a driver has been very helpful to my confidence,” Johnson said. “At the end of last year, the drought we’ve had, the fighting that Chad and I went through and all of that, it took a toll on me. Kevin did a really nice job of building me up this year and really helping me recognize the job I’m doing behind the wheel. I feel that I’m on my game and really doing a respectable job there.”

Johnson seeks to do more in strengthening the team as its leader.

“I’m learning a lot about team dynamics especially over the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “It’s been a responsibility that Chad always had in the past. Since we went our separate ways I’ve had much more of a role in that.

“You never know if things are truly going to work especially when you start from ground zero with somebody new. But I think intensity is a piece of it. I’d say the most important thing is the ability to communicate and that’s one thing that stood out so much when (Daniels and I) started working together at Sonoma was the level of communication. I think personalities can be different if you share that common drive and intensity and can talk about it. Just in life, right? Communication is everything and that’s really the piece that I’m most focused on.”

Daniels’ focus is on getting Johnson to the playoffs. Off the track, Daniels and his wife will welcome their first child, due in less than two weeks. Johnson said airplanes will be ready to take Daniels back to North Carolina if he is at the track when his wife goes into labor. Should Daniels leave the track, Hendrick Motorsports has a number of former crew chiefs who could take over that role for a day or so if needed, including Grubb, who is the organization’s technical director.

With the crew chief change, Johnson notes that Meendering  “didn’t do anything wrong at all.

“We’re still growing and learning each other, but we have to act now is the bottom line. We don’t have any time to waste. The history that Cliff and I have, I know that we’re going to come to the track and really be able to up our game.”

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