Sunday, November 16, 2008
Knaus stands alone among crew chiefs with third title in a row
Geoff Burke/Getty Images
No one has been able to top the dynamic duo of Jimmie Johsnon, left, and Chad Knaus for three seasons.
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Chad Knaus was standing atop Jimmie Johnson's pit box early Sunday evening, telling his driver and crew just how proud he was of their efforts for the night and season, when a deep, raspy voice chimed in over his radio headset.
"Chad Knaus," the voice said. "Darby here."
It was Sprint Cup series director John Darby, offering congratulations to Knaus for becoming the first crew chief in NASCAR history to win three consecutive titles. Knaus jokingly reminded the man who helps pass down penalties that it was the first time he'd done it without being suspended during the season.
Darby laughed and told Knaus he was not going to make light of that fact until the team was in New York City in two weeks for the banquet.
"Yeah, I realized after that, we hadn't gotten through tech [inspection] yet," Knaus said with a laugh. "I was like, 'maybe that was a little quick.'"
The car made it through postrace inspection just fine. Knaus and Johnson got to keep their title that put them in the history books.
But this was a special season for many reasons for Knaus. Not because he wasn't suspended as he was in 2006 and 2007, but because of the countless hours of testing and simulation it took to put Johnson in position to win another title.
The No. 48 team was average at best through the first half of the season. Johnson was fifth in points, 387 points behind Kyle Busch with 17 races remaining.
Then came a win at Indianapolis and the rest is history. Johnson won six times and had only one finish worse than 17th the rest of the way. He put together a stretch of nine straight top-10s, including four wins from California to Texas, to seize control of the championship.
Knaus played a key role.
And he did it all legally, which he's sure to be reminded of a time or two during the offseason.
"Yeah, Larry McReynolds stopped me yesterday and he said I was going to ask you if you were really worn out," said Knaus, referring to the former crew chief and now television analyst. "I said, 'I'm tired, yeah. Why?' He said, 'You worked six weeks longer this year than you have any other year.'"
Yes, as Knaus admitted, he's gotten in trouble more than his share of the time for pushing NASCAR's rule-book boundaries. Few of the greats in this sport have reached the level he has without doing so.
"But you've got this rule book and there's a lot of pages, and there's a lot of black in between those white lines," Knaus said. "And if you can find something in between those lines, you need to take advantage of it, otherwise you're not going to win races."
Knaus took advantage of all he could this season without crossing any lines. His commitment to finding ways to make the new car comfortable for Johnson is why he's already looking ahead to making it four straight next season.
"Yeah, we want four," Knaus said. "Why not? That's why we're here. We think with the team that we've got, the resources that we've got with Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet behind us, we can definitely go and bid for four championships in a row.
"Why wouldn't we? Give me a reason why not to. That's the mentality we've got to have."
He's right. There's no reason to think Johnson and Knaus won't be contenders in 2009 unless the team eases up and decides it can compete on reputation alone.
But that is unlikely to happen as long as Knaus is on the pit box. Google work-a-holic and you'll find his name.
"If we buckle down and do what we need to do, we'll be in contention for our fourth championship next year," Knaus said. "If that means I have to get up at 8 o'clock [Monday] morning and go to work to do it, I'll do it."
-- David Newton
Nationwide Series: Gibbs proud of group effort that bagged owner's title
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- They call it the Nationwide Series owner's championship, but it was really one of the truest cases of a team championship in the history of NASCAR.
Joey Logano's 10th-place finish in the Ford 300 sealed the deal for Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 team. There wasn't a lot of breathing room, but Gibbs' team of four drivers -- Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Logano -- gained 12 more points than Clint Bowyer's No. 2 Richard Childress Racing entity over 35 races.
Actually, the No. 20 team earned 162 more points than Bowyer's team over the course of the season -- but the No. 20 was penalized 150 points back in August after Gibbs' two Nationwide teams were caught attempting to circumvent a NASCAR chassis dyno test.
That penalty put the pressure on Logano, who didn't make his debut until Dover in June, a week after turning 18. Logano experienced a few rough patches in his 19 starts -- especially once crew chief Dave Rogers was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR following the Michigan infraction.
Logano, though, did his part as 18 of his 19 starts came in the No. 20 car, with Logano posting a win, five top-5s and 13 top-10s in those 18 races. He didn't have the best race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but it was enough to get the job done.
"It was an interesting one -- we didn't have the car to beat for sure," Logano said. "In the beginning we took off and ran really good. The car just tightened up a lot and I couldn't get a good read on the car. We started off really loose and got really tight. It would just change so much through the run and it was hard to adjust it."
In the end, the championship was much more meaningful than the 10th-place finish.
"It's good for everyone here to win the championship because they worked really hard this year," Logano said. "It's awesome because all these guys work really hard all year to get to this point. To win it is so cool for them. They just work really hard."
While the last of the team's nine wins came at Daytona in July, J.D. Gibbs, the team's president, was thrilled with the overall effort. JGR's No. 18 team won 10 times, but didn't run the entire schedule and wasn't in championship contention.
"Really for us it was special to have all those guys, Kyle and Denny and Tony and Joey get in that car and run it, and then for the guys at the shop that have worked all year long, it would have been real frustrating to go the whole year and not have something to show for it," Gibbs said. "Now to be able to come down to Orlando [for the series banquet] and celebrate as a team, we've never done that before as a Nationwide team.
"That's a big deal for us. So we're real excited about it, and I think for our team, it meant more than I would say most championships mean to other teams. I mean, this was a big deal for us and for the guys that worked so hard, because really, Nationwide you have guys that do a little bit of everything, and they're not so specialized. They really work their tails off."
And the team was able to retain its focus even after Rogers was suspended. To Gibbs, that means as much as the fact that the team was able to be strong no matter which of the four drivers was behind the wheel.
"To go back and have the guys at the shop step up -- some guys have never been on the road before, and do things that were asked of them that weren't comfortable and were difficult, I think that was what meant a lot," Gibbs said. "I think that kind of effort for us is going to make it a real strong foundation for years to come. Those guys went through hard times together, came out of it and were still able to win that championship.
"On top of it, you have a young guy [Logano] in the car, he's really good, but he didn't have much experience. So to put all that together and come out with the championship means more than you know."
-- Mark Ashenfelter
Craftsman Truck Series: Benson takes title into uncertain future for Trucks
The podium photo of the 2008 Craftsman Truck Series champion team should have been taken in black-and-white, or maybe sepia-toned. It was ancient history the moment the shutter clicked.
Take Johnny Benson, the newly minted champ after his seventh-place finish in the Ford 200. One would expect his return in 2009 to defend (the series is still looking for its first back-to-back champion), but Benson announced two weeks ago that he wouldn't be in the Bill Davis Racing No. 23 Toyota next season.
Take BDR. Its Sprint Cup side is struggling for financial help, and it remains to be seen how that may affect the multi-truck operation.
Take Craftsman. Friday was the final night for the only sponsor the Truck Series has ever known, with Camping World signed to take over next year.
All that appears to be just the tip of the iceberg for changes in the Truck Series, which like all of NASCAR is entering an offseason of question marks. In looking at the final top 10 in points, there is much up in the air from No. 1 to No. 10.
After Benson, take the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford driven to fourth in points by Erik Darnell. With Darnell, the youngest driver in the top 10, moving on to a part-time Nationwide schedule and Ford scaling back its financial involvement in the Trucks, the No. 99 may not return at all. Only rookie of the year Colin Braun is secure for Roush in '09, in the No. 6.
Speaking of Ford, Rick Crawford (seventh in points) will have to find associate sponsorship for his two-truck Circle Bar Racing team to help bridge the gap without manufacturer money.
Then there's the plight of Dennis Setzer, Jack Sprague and Terry Cook, the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-place drivers. Setzer's Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia team may not return to the series (its manufacturer, Dodge, bowed out months ago). Wyler Racing, which employed Cook and Sprague this year, could fold. Also needing sponsorship will be HT Motorsports, with whom Cook finished out the season.
And those were the better trucks this season. The end of the grid was a revolving door this season and it's hard to picture that getting any more secure next season. Fourteen of 25 races this season were contested with less than a full field of 36 trucks; it's anyone's guess how many full-field races might come together next year.
At least there are a couple of pillars of stability. Todd Bodine, third in points and a three-time winner this year including the Ford 200, is slated to return in the Germain Racing No. 30 Toyota. Ron Hornaday Jr., the series runner-up by seven agonizing points after his eighth-place finish Friday, isn't going anywhere either in his No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet.
Call Hornaday and Bodine, the 2007 and 2006 champs, respectively, the early favorites for next year's Camping World Truck Series title -- on merit and default, as there is much to be determined over this offseason of uncertainty.
-- John Schwarb
Mark Garrow recaps Jimmie Johnson's third straight Sprint Cup championship win and wraps up all the news and notes from Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Racing Resources Says
Sprint Cup Series
Carl Edwards won the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Edwards scored his third victory in the 10-race Chase, winning at Atlanta, Texas and Homestead and his ninth victory of the season. He posted his 16th career victory in his 157th career race. Edwards led five times for 157 laps including the final four.
Roush Fenway Racing posted its 11th victory in 2008; Edwards won nine, Greg Biffle won two. Roush Fenway Racing posted its sixth Homestead victory in 10 races there.
2008 Champion Jimmie Johnson (finished 15th) scored top-15 finishes in the last 12 races, extending a streak that began at California in August. Johnson scored his third straight series championship (2006-2008). He finished second in final points in 2003 and 2004. Edwards finished second in points, 69 behind Johnson, his career-best series finish in his five years of competition (2004-2008).
Johnson won his third series championship with only 255 career starts, the second fewest number of starts by any driver to win three titles; Jeff Gordon won his third in 1998 with only 188 career starts.
Johnson was the only driver to score top-15 finishes in all 10 Chase races. He produced a 5.7 average finish in the 10 Chase races.
Gordon (4th) has gone 41 races without a victory, his longest streak between victories. Gordon, who finished seventh in 2008 points, ended a 14-year streak of winning at least one race a year (1994-2007).
Matt Kenseth (25th) who finished 11th in 2008 points, ended a six-year streak of winning at least one race a year (2002-2007). Kenseth's last win came at Homestead in 2007 -- 36 races ago.
Harvick who finished fourth in 2008 final points, ended a three-year streak of winning at least one race a year, 2005-2007. Harvick's last win came at Daytona in February 2007 -- 71 races ago. Harvick has been running at the finish in the last 80 races, the longest current streak by any driver.
Dale Earnhardt Inc. ended an eight-year streak of scoring at least one victory (2000-2007).
McMurray (finished third) scored five top-10 finishes in the final six races of the season.
The top 10 consisted of five Chevrolets, three Fords, one Toyota and one Dodge.
Greg Biffle won the first two Chase races, Tony Stewart won at Talladega, Jeff Burton won at Lowe's, Jimmie Johnson won at Kansas, Martinsville and Phoenix, and Carl Edwards won Atlanta, Texas and Homestead. No non-Chase driver won during the Chase.
Eight of the 12 Chase drivers changed positions at Homestead.
Regan Smith (finished 34th) was named 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year.
The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, four Chevrolets, and two Fords. Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished 17th, was the highest-finishing Dodge.
Bowyer is the 20th driver to win a championship in the 27th season of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This was Bowyer's fifth season, third full in the series. His prior best championship rank was second in 2005. He was third in 2006.
The final points margin of 21 was the fourth closest points margin in series history. The closest was in 1992, Joe Nemechek over Bobby Labonte by 3 points.
Bowyer won only one race in 2008, at Bristol, joining Larry Pearson in 1986 and David Green in 1994 for the least number of wins by a champion in his championship season.
Bowyer led the standings following the last 30 races, since race No. 6 at Nashville. His worst ranking this season of 24th came following the season opener at Daytona.
Bowyer's smallest points lead was nine, twice, following Mexico City and the spring race at Richmond. His largest points lead was 207, following the summer Richmond race.
This is the 16th series title for a Chevrolet driver, including 15 of the last 18.
This is Richard Childress Racing's third driver's championship. Richard Childress Racing drivers have won 10 NASCAR championships (six Cup, three Nationwide, one Truck).
Craftsman Truck Series
Todd Bodine won the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and posted his 15th series victory in his 115th start. Bodine posted his third series win of the 2008 season (Daytona, Talladega).
Bodine scored his second series victory at Homestead in his fourth start. He posted his first 1.5 mile victory of the 2008 season and ninth career, the most of all series drivers.
Germain Racing posted its third win of the 2008 season, all by Bodine. Toyota posted its 13th win of the 2008 season and third at Homestead.
Brian Scott, who finished second, posted his career-best finish in his 32nd start. Scott was the highest finishing of the four Rookie of the Year contenders in the race.
Bodine won from the 18th starting position, the lowest starting position of a series Homestead winner.
The race ended under a green-white-checker finish for the seventh time in 2008 and the third at Homestead.
Kyle Busch, who led the most laps for the seventh time in 2008, finished fourth.