FOX NASCAR Insider
Chad Knaus will be just the sixth crew chief inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when he is among the 2024 class on Friday night.
Knaus earned all seven of his championships with driver Jimmie Johnson, who also will be inducted Friday. Johnson and Knaus are the modern era inductees, while driver Donnie Allison is the pioneer era inductee.
Currently serving as the Vice President of Competition at Hendrick Motorsports, Knaus began his crew chief career as a teenager wrenching on cars for his father, who raced in their home state of Illinois and around the Midwest. He left for NASCAR in 1991 to begin one of the most impressive careers in the sport.
The 52-year-old Knaus talked with FOX Sports earlier this month about his Hall of Fame induction. The conversation has been edited:
First off, congratulations. I want to go back to the beginning. And I’m curious when you were a teenager, and your crew chiefing for your father, did he think you were good? Like, was he like, yes, “Go pursue this dream, you’re going to be great, you’re going to be a winner.”
I don’t know if we ever actually really had the conversation quite like that. Back when I was working with my father, it was a lot different, right? So the drivers in the late model series back then, they had an awful lot of input on what happened with race cars from a setup standpoint and all of that. And I was learning. I was very young, obviously. But my middle teens, late teens, when I was working with my dad, I think, yeah, we were pretty good. We did a lot of good stuff. We built the cars together, we set the cars up together. We did all of the things that need to happen to go out and be successful. We were very fortunate to win some championships, a bunch of races and did some good stuff. I don’t think he ever discouraged me from going down here, but I don’t know that he ever told me that ‘I think you’re going to be great.’
There aren’t many crew chiefs in the Hall of Fame, I think you’ll be number six. So I’m curious what made you so good?
I think we’ve got to fall back on, quite honestly, just the people that I’ve been able to work with throughout my career. I’ve had a lot of support — a lot of people have helped me along the way, a lot of people have helped me and kept me between the guardrails and guided me and I think that is honestly what made me good. I was very fortunate to win races and win championships. … I’ve had a lot of really, really good people surrounding me throughout my life and giving me opportunities. Ray Evernham [at Hendrick], Philippe Lopez [at the first team Knaus worked for], Rick Hendrick — so many people have been in my corner. And I don’t really know why to be honest with you. But I’m fortunate to have had that support all the way down to the [NASCAR-owning] France family. A lot of people have supported me throughout my career.
Do you know what’s going into your HOF display? And was there anything that you wanted in your display?
I have not done a good job throughout my career keeping items nor have a very systematic way in which to store the items that I have kept. So as we were going through finding some things, we’ve got some good nuggets I think are going to be pretty interesting for everybody to look at for sure. But there’s not a whole lot to show where I was prior to Hendrick Motorsports. There’s just not, but I’ve got a lot of really cool stuff in there. I think it’s going to be really fun to display those items and those things and something that I, and my family, we’re going to be very proud of.
Chad Knaus on emotions of Hall of Fame induction ceremony
Should they just have one big display for you and Jimmie — just combine the two displays? Or do you feel like it’s good that you both have your separate ones?
No. We’re so different. There’s a period of our lives that there’s 15 years or so where Jimmie and I were together but there was a heck of a lot prior to that. And there’s been a good chunk after that. So I don’t think it necessarily is the way it needs to be. I think that there’s enough that’s intertwined that people will see the connection. Obviously, that’s natural. But I think Jimmie’s story is very vast in how he came from motorcycle racing and then his buggies and his off-road stuff and all of that and all of those years that that needs to be something that he’s got in his space. So, no, I think having them independent is exactly the way it should be. Because there’s enough of it that is combined.
You talk about Jimmie’s motorcycles and everything. Did you ever wonder how a gearhead from Illinois is going to get along with a California kid who grew up on motorcycles?
It’s crazy, right? It’s hard to believe that I can remember our first encounter. I can remember our first lunch where we sat down with the executives at Hendrick Motorsports, Randy [Dorton] and Ken Howes and Robbie Loomis and Brian Whitesell. And we all sat around this big table and we hit it off straight away. … We came from different areas, we came from different lives. There were some commonalities that we had when he was racing up in Wisconsin with some of the Schills and those guys while he was up there racing ASA. I had raced at some of the similar tracks with my father in the Midwest. But even at that point, I was already so far removed. I was 10 years removed from the Midwest while he was doing that stuff. But when we got together, we just had an immediate connection — a really, really good friendship. And it wasn’t hard to form that with Jimmie. As we all know, he’s an amazing individual, such a likable guy, and we hit it off straight away.
What was your first meeting and interaction with him?
The very first time Jimmie and I met was in Homestead 2001. This before Homestead was the last race of the year and Atlanta was still the last race. And we had just finished qualifying with the Cup cars. And Jimmie was going out to race the Xfinity race. And a common friend of ours, Jay Guy, who was a former crew chief, he and I were sitting on the wall talking. And Jimmie walked by. And Jay actually stopped Jimmie because it had already been announced and Jimmie had already raced, I think Charlotte and maybe another race, and Jay stopped Jimmie and said, ‘Hey, Jimmie, I want you to meet Chad.’ And he said, ‘I think this is the guy that needs to be your crew chief next year.’ And he just did it on being funny. Jay’s a funny guy. And so we shook hands, and just kind of laughed it off. And I said, ‘Hey, man, good luck in the race.’ He’s like, ‘Good luck tomorrow.’ And then it wasn’t a week later, I got a phone call from Hendrick Motorsports because oddly enough, I had run into [HMS engine builder] Randy Dorton that next week, and I think Randy mentioned my name to Jimmie and Jimmie was like, ‘Man, I just met the guy.’ So we kind of all got around the table. And we chatted it up at a restaurant over here by Hendrick Motorsports.
Will the ceremony be any more emotional because it’s both you and Jimmie going in at the same time?
I don’t necessarily think any more emotional. I think it’s really awesome that I’ll be there and experiencing a very similar feeling as to what Jimmie is feeling at the exact same time. It’s always cool to have your wingman with you, right? I was surprised [to get in first ballot], I’ll be honest. Much like you said, not a lot of crew chiefs have gone in there. And there were some very worthy folks that were on the ballot that I thought were just as worthy of getting in there or more so than myself. I knew Jimmie was going in straight away, like that was easy. So I kind of thought that he was going to go in and then maybe I would go in a little bit later as some of the other folks got that opportunity. But when it was announced, it was very flattering and very cool. Sitting in that conference room with Jimmie when Steve Phelps made the announcement, being able to hug it out with him a little bit was really cool.
Has it been hard to watch him race the last six years and not win from an outsider perspective?
For sure. I didn’t win a lot my last couple of years as a crew chief, either, right? Let’s just be honest. It’s a different time. What I like about what Jimmie is doing and has been doing the last couple of years is that he is enjoying himself. He’s having fun. He’s building a new part of his life and his career. Obviously, the ownership of Legacy is a huge deal for him. What he’s been able to do and go and race the Indianapolis 500, whether it was a successful race or not from a finishing standpoint is irrelevant. The fact is that he raced it. He qualified. He made the show and he was racing, which not many people get to do in life. He’s been able to race the 24 hours of Le Mans. He’s been able to race the 24 Hours of Daytona and be successful in all of those. So I think albeit maybe not a lot of trophies, he’s doing an awful lot of good.
Why do you think both of you are still doing it? Why is he still racing? Don’t you both deserve to just go on a beach somewhere and relax?
Facts are Jimmie’s doing it because he enjoys it and he can — he could probably afford just to go to a beach and chill. We know he could. Quite honestly, I can’t. I have to work for a living. No, that’s not even fair. But I really enjoy it, quite honestly. I love coming into work. I’ve got the people and relationships at Hendrick Motorsports. I’ve got the people and the relationships in the industry. I get to talk and work with some of the best people in motorsports, whether that be in IMSA, NASCAR, IndyCar with our IndyCar adventure this year. There’s so much cool stuff to do, why not keep doing it? Like, I don’t know what else I would do. I’ve got the best job. I’ve got the best people that I work with. I’ve got an owner of our team that is probably one of the best mentors you could ever ask for in life. And that’s what keeps me doing it.
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.
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