Ray Evernham

Chad Knaus to move off pit box for executive role at Hendrick

2 Comments

Chad Knaus, whose success as a crew chief is nearly unparalleled in NASCAR, will step down from that role after this season and move into a leadership position at Hendrick Motorsports, the team announced Tuesday.

Knaus will become vice president of competition. He will oversee technical development for Hendrick Motorsports, including implantation of the Next Gen car in 2022. He also will be responsible for personnel for each of the four teams, including crew chiefs, pit crews, engineering, fabrication, assembly and other team-related staff.

Knaus won seven championships as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief. Only Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman won more titles. Inman won eight, scoring seven with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte. Knaus has 82 career Cup wins. All but one came with Johnson. William Byron scored his first career Cup win in August at Daytona with Knaus as his crew chief. Byron was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The 49-year-old Knaus is the only crew chief to have competed in NASCAR’s postseason all 17 years.

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus before the 2005 Coca-Cola 600. They combined to win that event four times.  (Photo by Harold Hinson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

“When I started at Hendrick Motorsports (in 1993) working for Ray Evernham, my goal was to be a crew chief,” Knaus said in a statement from the team. “Starting at a young age, I wanted to win every race we entered and battle for every championship.

“Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has given me the chance to do exactly that, and I could not be more thankful to him. After all these years, my competitive desire has not changed at all, but now I have a family that deserves my attention. This new executive role will allow me to compete in a different way with all four of our teams while spending more time with my wife and two young children.

“I appreciate the company supporting my decision, and I’m truly excited about the challenge ahead of me to help us grow and win. I’m also looking forward to working closely with Jeff (Andrews), who I admire and have great respect for. I owe so much to Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, and I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Knaus and his wife Brooke welcomed a baby girl July 30. Vivienne Mae Knaus is the couple’s second child. Son Kipling was born in 2018.

A new crew chief for Byron will be announced at a later date.

Chad Knaus, car owner Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson displaying their rings after Johnson claimed the 2013 Daytona 500. (Photo by John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In life, it’s rare to witness true excellence first-hand, but that’s precisely what we’ve been treated to with Chad,” Hendrick said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is bittersweet because, in my opinion, he is the finest crew chief our sport has ever seen.

“Although we’re going to miss him atop the pit box, I’m heartened that Chad has made this decision for himself and his growing family and that he is energized about the opportunity to move us forward in a new capacity. There is no one with higher standards or a stronger passion for winning. He will continue to elevate Hendrick Motorsports and instill his championship mentality throughout the company.”

Knaus served two races as crew chief for Casey Atwood in 2000 and then did one race for Stacy Compton that season. In 2001, Knaus was paired with Compton. Knaus rejoined Hendrick Motorsports to be Johnson’s crew chief in 2002. They remained together until 2019 when Knaus moved to Byron’s team.   

Knaus will report to Andrews, 55, who has been promoted to executive vice president and general manager, effective immediately.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus celebrate their seventh NASCAR Cup championship after winning the 2016 season finale in Miami. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Andrews joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 and most recently served as vice president of competition. He had held that role since 2017.

Previously, Andrews held a leadership position in the team’s engine department, including director of engine operations. In his expanded role, Andrews will oversee all competition-related departments, including powertrain, manufacturing and racing operations. He will continue to support the organization’s technical relationship with Chevrolet and remain its primary liaison with NASCAR’s competition group. Andrews reports to Hendrick Motorsports president Marshall Carlson.

“In my almost 29-year NASCAR career, I’ve been fortunate to work for just one organization,” Andrews said in a statement from the team. “Mr. Hendrick is a racer and a fierce competitor. His drive to win is contagious, and I’m grateful to have a team of like-minded people who share that passion. Racing is all I have ever done professionally. When I left my home and my family 33 years ago to pursue this dream, I never could have imagined the opportunities that have been provided by so many people, most importantly Mr. Hendrick.”

Said Hendrick in a statement: “As we look to the years ahead, Jeff and Chad are going to play significant roles in our success. They’re tremendous leaders who are respected within our organization and across the entire auto racing world. In addition, they each bring unique strengths and skillsets that will complement each other extremely well and benefit all of Hendrick Motorsports. We’re in the business of winning, and this combination is going to help us do just that.”

Mixed emotions in William Byron’s first Cup win

Leave a comment

“The playoffs.”

That’s the first thing that popped into 22-year-old William Byron‘s mind Saturday night In the moments after winning his first career Cup Series race.

Not that he’d earned the win at Daytona International Speedway or that he was now only the second Cup driver to win a race in the No. 24 made famous by Jeff Gordon.

No, after surviving multiple wrecks in the final laps, the third-year driver was just relieved to be part of the 16-driver playoff field at the end of the regular-season finale.

Byron began the night only four points above the cutline. He ended it inside the top 16 with Matt DiBenedetto while teammate Jimmie Johnson’s bid for an eighth title in his last full-time season was denied.

Byron’s mind quickly went to the crew members on his No. 24 team.

“Just how excited I knew that my team was, how excited (spotter) Tab (Boyd) was on the radio, how excited (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was, how excited I was,” Byron said.

Entering his 98 career Cup start, Byron admitted he had thought about how long it had been since he’d won a race. His last trip to Victory Lane in a points race was Nov. 11, 2017 when he won a Xfinity race at Phoenix Raceway.

“That feeling of coming off (Turn) 4, it’s just a shot of adrenaline right into your arm, it really is,” Byron said. “It’s just an incredible feeling. I can’t describe winning a race in NASCAR. It’s been a while.”

Byron said winning his Daytona 500 qualifying race in February “was kind of half of that, I’d say, three‑quarters of that feeling. I just want that feeling again. This is awesome, man.”

Relief wasn’t reserved for Byron.

Knaus, in his second year working with Byron, had plenty to share.

With the victory, the seven-time champion crew chief accomplished multiple career goals.

A former member of the No. 24 teams of Gordon and Ray Evernham in the 90s, Knaus had finally taken the No. 24 back to Victory Lane.

“It was a long time coming,” Knaus said. “I really wanted to get to Victory Lane with this 24 car again. To be able to do it with the legacy that Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham started with this car at Hendrick Motorsports, to get it back to Victory Lane, follow suit with what Chase (Elliott) was able to do with the 24 car, to put William’s name up there, it’s a lot of pressure. I feel really happy about it and definitely a lot of relief.”

The other goal was also rooted in personal history: his 17 years working with Jimmie Johnson on the No. 48.

“The one thing to be selfish from my standpoint is I wanted to get to Victory Lane with a car … without Jimmie Johnson’s (name) on top of the door. Nothing against Jimmie or any of that, but just to do it, to see if I could accomplish it.

“We’ve come close, had some really solid runs with the 24 car. Not as many this year as we would have liked to have had. To do it really means a lot, to be able to bring this team into the playoffs again.”

On the flip side, Knaus felt “awful” the win came at the expense of Johnson, who failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.

“Let’s be quite honest, right? Jimmie shouldn’t be in this position,” Knaus said. “If it hadn’t been for COVID, him missing a race, he should have been solid in the playoffs. That hurts. I hate it for Jimmie. He’s one of my best friends. He was the first guy that came by pit road and looked up at me, revved up the engine, gave me a thumbs up. He means the world to me. He’s a great man and brother of mine.

“It hurts me, but it is what we do, we compete. We’ve got to go do what we need to do.”

Knaus mentioned relief when asked to compare Saturday night’s win to what he experienced in 2002 when he and Johnson earned their first win together at Auto Club Speedway.

“It’s a different emotion. It’s a different time,” Knaus said. “Obviously, in 2002 it was just different. It was so raw and so pure, just a different time. William is experiencing those emotions right now obviously. I think it’s fantastic. We’ve got a handful of guys on the team that have never won a Cup race before. They’re going through those same emotions.

“For me it’s quite honestly a little bit more of a relief than maybe the elation of victory.”

NASCAR’s top five moments from the Coca-Cola 600

Leave a comment

Today marks the longest race of the year for NASCAR as the Cup Series holds the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 400-lap race was first held in 1960 and has seen its fair share of defining moments.

Here are the five top moments from the first 60 years of the Coca-Cola 600.

1) New Kid on the Block (1994)

The first 46 years of NASCAR were defined by names like Petty, Earnhardt and Waltrip.

Arguably the first big moment for NASCAR’s next generation of racers came on May 29, 1994 courtesy of Jeff Gordon.

That was the day the 22-year-old kid from California scored his first Cup Series win.

After making his first start in the 1992 season finale, Gordon’s team, led by crew chief Ray Evernham, had to wait until their 42nd start together to visit Victory Lane.

The victory was aided by Evernham’s decision on a late pit stop to take two tires instead of four.

Gordon led the final nine laps and beat Rusty Wallace. In Victory Lane, an emotional Gordon called it the greatest day of his life.

2) One Turn Away (2011)

May 29, 2011 was not a good day to drive a race car sponsored by the National Guard.

The bad luck began on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. Rookie J.R Hildebrand was leading Dan Wheldon when Hildebrand passed a slow car on the outside in the final turn and hit the wall, allowing Wheldon to steal the win.

Hours later, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s turn to experience misfortune in the Coke 600.

An overtime finish saw Earnhardt leading at the white flag. He still led in Turn 3, but then his No. 88 Chevrolet pulled up lame in Turn 4 as it ran out of gas.

That allowed Kevin Harvick to overtake him and streak to the checkered flag as Earnhardt limped to a seventh-place finish.

It was the first of two Coke 600 wins for Harvick.

3) The No. 3 Returns to Victory Lane (2017)

After Feb. 18, 2001 and the death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, the No. 3 did not compete in the Cup Series for 13 years.

Richard Childress Racing brought the number back in 2014 with Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, behind the wheel.

Dillon and his team would have to wait until May 28, 2017 to bring the famous number back to Victory Lane.

The race ended with a 67-lap green flag run, which set up a fuel-mileage battle between Jimmie Johnson and Dillon.

Dillon won.

Johnson ran out of gas with two laps to go, which allowed Dillon to take the lead on the backstretch. Dillon took the checkered flag, giving the No. 3 a win in the Coke 600 for the first time since 1993.

4) The Silver Fox Arrives (1961)

1960 saw the inaugural Coke 600 – then called the World 600 – and the arrival of David Pearson on the NASCAR stage.

The following year Pearson began building his Hall of Fame resume in the 400-lap race.

Pearson, driving a car owned by Ray Fox, dominated the race by leading 225 laps.

But Pearson’s car didn’t finish the race in one piece.

With two laps to go, one of the tires on Pearson’s Pontiac blew. But Pearson managed to pilot the car to the checkered flag, crossing the finish line in sparks to beat Fireball Roberts by two laps.

It was the first of 105 career Cup wins for Pearson and his first of three Coke 600 wins.

5) Janet Guthrie Arrives in NASCAR (1976)

While David Pearson and Richard Petty finished first and second, the future Hall of Famers weren’t the highlight of the World 600 on May 30, 1976.

That was the driver who finished 15th in her first NASCAR race: Janet Guthrie.

Guthrie, a former aerospace engineer and a sports car driver, had been brought to the World 600 by Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler after her bid to make the Indianapolis 500 failed.

Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR race on a superspeedway. She started 27th and survived the 400-lap marathon as 16 cars dropped out. While she finished 21 laps behind Pearson and Petty, she placed ahead of future Hall of Famers Richard Childress, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Isaac.

It was the first of 33 career Cup starts Guthrie would make over the next four years and it was her only start in the 600.

MORE: Where Are They now? Janet Guthrie

and on Facebook

NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Martinsville Speedway

Leave a comment

When you’re the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, having opened in the sport’s inaugural season in 1949, you have a lot of stories to tell.

That’s the case with Martinsville Speedway, which is the next subject of our on-going series looking back the top five moments of specific NASCAR tracks.

The short track in Virginia follows  MiamiTexasBristol, former NASCAR tracks, Richmond,  Talladega and Dover.

Let’s get started.

1) Retaliation and One Last Victory (Nov. 1, 2015)

A lot happened in the fall 2015 Cup Series race at Martinsville. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. All of it was memorable.

Entering the final round of playoffs before the championship race, Joey Logano had swept every race in the previous round.

Along the way he’d ticked off Matt Kenseth, a result of spinning Kenseth from the lead with five laps to go at Kansas.

Two races later, Kenseth laid out his version of justice on NASCAR’s oldest track.

After being involved in a wreck on a Lap 435 restart, Kenseth returned to the track multiple laps down as Logano led.

As the the field entered Turn 1 on Lap 454, Logano attempted to lap Kenseth on the outside. That was perfect for Kenseth, as he proceeded to run straight into Logano, forcing Logano into the wall and wrecking himself in the process.

Meanwhile Jeff Gordon, who had been running in second, raced by to take the lead. After a red flag to clean up the wreck, the race resumed as Martinsville began running out of sunlight.

Following a late Sam Hornish Jr. incident, Gordon successfully held off Jamie McMurray in a two-lap shootout to claim the win. It was his only win of the year, his 93rd Cup victory and it locked him into the Championship 4 in his final full-time season.

 

2) Earnhardt vs Waltrip vs Labonte (1987)

It was the year of Earnhardt.

Through 23 races in the 1987 Cup Series season, Dale Earnhardt had won 11 times, including all six races held on short tracks.

The fall race at Martinsville was a three-way contest between Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte and it came down to them in a three-lap shootout to end the race.

As Earnhardt took the white flag, he led his 170th lap. In second was Labonte, who had led 119 laps and Waltrip, in third, had led 137.

Labonte tried to pass Earnhardt on his outside in Turns 1 and 2, but Earnhardt pinned him to the outside wall as they exited onto the backstretch.

As they entered Turn 3, Labonte lurched forward and rammed Earnhardt’s rear bumper, sending Earnhardt up the track and Labonte into a spin. Waltrip snuck by underneath them, took the lead and raced to the checkered flag.

It was Waltrip’s only win of the year and his eighth Martinsville victory.

3) An Andretti wins for Petty (1999)

John Andretti only won twice in NASCAR Cup Series career, but he made both of them count. In 1997, he won the July Daytona race while driving for three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

Two years later, he won for The King.

In the spring 1999 race at Martinsville, Andretti was the driver of Richard Petty’s No. 43 car. While Petty had won a record 15 times on the short track, a Petty-owned car hadn’t won there since 1979.

Andretti changed that with a hard charge to the win.

He started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti then passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap.

On Lap 383 of the 500-lap race, Andretti pitted from 11th, took two tires and exited in fourth.

He eventually caught race leader Jeff Burton on Lap 494 and they would race side-by-side for two laps before Andretti took the lead for good. After taking the checkered flag, Andretti gave Petty a lift to Victory Lane.

4) Ricky Rudd Beats The Heat (1998)

On a 93-degree day in Martinsville, Ricky Rudd went above and beyond to ensure he’d extend his streak of seasons with at least one Cup win to 16.

Rudd led 198 of 500 laps, including the final 96. But with a broken cooling box, it was not an easy task.

“I started seeing things with 60 laps to go,” said Rudd, who requested a relief driver with 50 laps to go. “I was starting to lose it. I should have come out.”

Rudd suffered second-degree burns to his back and had to conduct his Victory Lane interview with ESPN laying down.

Rudd’s steak of seasons with a win would end in 1999. He wouldn’t win again until 2001 at Pocono.

5) No Ray Evernham, No Problem (1999)

The team of the late 1990s was Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 squad, led by crew chief Ray Evernham.

From 1994-1999, Evernham led Gordon and the “Rainbow Warriors” to three Cup Series titles and 47 race wins.

Then, in the middle of the 1999 season, he was gone. Evernham departed the team after the Sept. 26 race Dover to begin building Dodge’s Cup Series operation, which would debut in 2001.

His departure occurred right before the fall race at Martinsville. Taking his place as crew chief of the No. 24 was Brian Whitesell.

While the Oct. 3 race didn’t see the typical dominating performance by Gordon at the short track, he only led 29 laps, the end result was familiar.

Dale Earnhardt was leading late when a caution came out for a Chad Little incident in Turn 4. While the rest of the leaders pit, Gordon’s team elected to stay out and he assumed the lead with 25 laps to go.

Gordon then held off Earnhardt for the final 19 laps under green and beat him by .198 seconds for his sixth win of the season.

Talk about the passion: Ray Evernham drives ‘Glory Road’ history

Leave a comment

Ray Evernham enjoys researching the annals of stock-car racing, but the man voted the greatest crew chief to work in NASCAR enjoys talking about the past just as much.

Particularly when it’s a conversation with someone he knows well but doesn’t often have the privilege of discussing one of his favorite passions in racing – its history.

Whether it’s via the tapings of the “Glory Road” documentary series or as a member of the new NASCAR Hall of Fame Honors Committee that selects the Pioneer ballot, Evernham is getting those opportunities quite often the last few years.

Starting Wednesday, all 16 of the 30-minute episodes in “Glory Road” are available at TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. They feature conversations with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Richard Petty, Tony Stewart, Rick Hendrick, Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon on some of the most legendary moments in NASCAR lore.

“My conversations with Dale Jr. were conversations that we had never really had before,” Evernham recently told NBCSports.com. “My conversations with Mike Helton we hadn’t had before. Jeff Gordon and I talked about things that we hadn’t really talked about.

“I think that sitting with some of the key people and talking about things you hadn’t really talked about before maybe stirred something in their mind that they felt a little more comfortable talking to me than just a standard interview. When you’re talking to somebody that’s interested and have done their research, something always comes out.”

Jeff Gordon’s most successful ride, NASCAR’s road-racing history and the return of Dodge are among the cars, people and places showcased on “Glory Road.” Many interview subjects are featured in multiple interviews such as Helton, a longtime NASCAR executive.

“Mike is a car guy,” Evernham said. “But you don’t get much time with a guy like Mike Helton other than (NASCAR) business. Everybody’s got an agenda when they’re talking to him. When Jeff and I get together, everybody’s got an agenda.

“Those conversations for Glory Road, there was no agenda other than sitting there talking about cool stories and cool cars, and it was really enjoyable. I saw a different side and reached a place with people I’ve known for years that I’ve never been able to go, and I hope to bring that out to fans who are watching the show. They’re seeing a part of this person’s life or personality that they don’t always see because when we’re all racing together, business overrides the other stuff that we want to have fun talking about.”

Evernham said Earnhardt’s knowledge of NASCAR “really surprised me,” which made his recent Hall of Fame nomination seem more apropos.

“I was really happy when Dale was nominated for the Hall of Fame because we had that conversation” for “Glory Road,” Evernham said. “He’s made a huge impact on the sport in a lot of other ways. His popularity No. 1, but the fact how he approached safety and he’s been the first to (raise awareness) about concussions. He’s become very public about his love of the sport and how he followed the history. He actually has a lot of expertise in that area.

“It’s felt like everybody expected him to be a great race car driver, which he was, but I don’t think they were expecting him to be the person that he is.”

Evernham was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2018. He took on a new role this year by joining the Hall’s inaugural 43-member Honors Committee that selects the new Pioneer ballot (open to those whose careers began more than 60 years ago).

Legendary mechanics Banjo Matthews and Jake Elder were among the five nominees to the new Pioneer ballot (one will be chosen for 2021), and Evernham lobbied for both.

“Banjo Matthews took over from Holman-Moody and took Ford and NASCAR to the next step,” Evernham said. “A lot of people don’t know that. Behind the scenes, Banjo pushed for a lot of the safety things through the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I used to pick up the phone and call Banjo all the way up until ’93, ’94, ’95 when I had the No. 24 team. I’m glad he’s not being forgotten because he had such a huge part of the sport.

“A lot of people worked for Jake Elder as well. Jake was a genius. No formal education. Literally could not read or write in some ways. And he was able to understand things mechanically with the car and become a great crew chief and do a lot at a time when the crew chief had to do everything. When they didn’t get any money.”

Much has been made about the Evernham crew chief “tree” that has produced winning crew chiefs such as Chad Knaus, Rodney Childers, Tony Gibson and Steve Letarte. But Evernham hopes the Pioneer ballot will help recognize those before him who spawned generations of crew chiefs.

“The spirit of what those guys did before we had all those fancy tools and all the big money and notoriety; they did that for the love of the sport,” Evernham said. “Ray Evernham’s crew chief tree is deep, but I’m only a branch on Banjo’s tree or the Jay Signore tree. We’re fortunate to trace back NASCAR to the beginning in 1948. You don’t have to go to the 1800s like in baseball and football and other sports. That historical part of our sport is not unreachable, and some of the people we’re talking about now know the forest was very small when they were growing their trees.

“It looks big now with the branches, but when you trace some of the later guys in the Hall of Fame, their roots go all the way back to guys like Banjo Matthews and Jake Elder. I’m glad they’re being recognized. I’m proud to be on that part of the committee. When we recognize those things we really are recognizing them for the footprint they have in motorsports.”