published Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Young: Is Knaus not sharing with other Hendrick crew chiefs?

Here’s a question that has no real tangible answer: Are NASCAR teams racing under the same management really equal?

Watching races in recent weeks has led to this curious question. There was no better reason to ask it than last week at Dover. Jimmie Johnson clearly had the best car on the track, yet his Hendrick Motorsports teammates finished 10th, 12th and 26th.

OK, the results weren’t horrible for the other three, but consider that Johnson led 298 laps. Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon combined led one lap, and that was Martin under caution. It’s extremely difficult to believe Johnson is that much better than two future Hall of Fame drivers.

I do believe the equipment is equal. Rick Hendrick would have it no other way. But where’s the information sharing? Yes, it should be every man for himself come race day, but one would think Hendrick would like a little more sharing if one team discovers something during a race that makes the car run a lot better.

This, to me, seems like it goes further than that. Johnson’s car was so much better than the rest of the Hendrick cars from the start of the race. So this wasn’t just in-race adjustments that came about through driver and crew chief interaction.

The Lowe’s team crew chief, the renowned Chad Knaus, obviously had a superior setup before the race. Maybe I’m out of the loop more than I think, but multiteam crew chiefs theoretically are supposed to share information leading up to a race and then implement what they can to match their drivers’ styles.

Johnson and Gordon both have said they like different setups, but I find it hard to believe that Gordon wouldn’t have been better than he was all weekend had his crew chief, Steve Letarte, and Knaus shared notes. If they did share notes and Letarte was privy to all the information available, then the 24 team has some serious issues.

Don’t get me wrong: Johnson and Knaus go out each week to beat Gordon, Martin, Earnhardt and everyone else. And they should. But it also benefits the 48 if the other three teams are running well. The more teammates Johnson gets in the Chase, the better off he will be.

And that’s not to mention the bottom line. Hendrick pours in millions more than he has to so his teams can be the best. If his crew chiefs are hoarding information, well, I can’t imagine that’s what the boss would want.

———

The Carl Long situation has divided the NASCAR media. I wrote shortly after the journeyman driver and his team were slapped with the most devastating penalty in NASCAR history that while the penalty was severe, it had its merits.

I still hold to that, in the fact that NASCAR wanted to send a stern message to its competitors that even though there aren’t 43 full-time teams this year, it won’t allow teams to cheat just to make the field and earn starting money.

However, I do feel that the point has been made and that, in this country of second chances, maybe NASCAR could cut the penalty in half and still get the job done. And, like several writers I respect, I wonder if NASCAR would have been so bold if the guilty party had been one of the sport’s stars?

———

Remember a few years ago when the term “field fillers” first made it into the NASCAR lingo? Well, they’re back, and the same question comes up all the time: Is it right for a team to qualify for a race, run a handful of laps and park the car?

There’s certainly nothing illegal about the practice, but it sure doesn’t feel right. It seems to send the message that it’s OK for a team to intentionally lose. Trust me, NASCAR officials detest the practice and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see measures taken to eliminate it.

What can be done? The most obvious fix would be to shorten the fields. Would fans really notice if 36 or 38 cars started a race? The purses would be a bit better for the full-time teams. Or NASCAR could implement a minimum speed to make the race, a certain percentage from 30th on back as it relates to the pole sitter.

Of course, if the economy turns around and sponsors return to the sport, the field fillers will be gone. No one would complain about that.

about Lindsey Young...

Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...

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jh009 said...

"Maybe I’m out of the loop more than I think..."

Well, at least you had one part of your article correct. As someone who has followed the sport and HMS for over 15 years, here's some information (that you probably should've made yourself aware of before writing that piece).

All 4 Hendrick drivers and crew chiefs meet after Happy Hour every weekend and throw everything out there that they've learned did / didn't work over the course of their practice sessions. During the race, the crew cheifs and engineers have a program similar to AOL Instant Messaging that allows them to share anything they've learned really worked on their car throughout the race and any other pivotal information.

Prior to the weekend at Dover (and just like he did prior to his rare 3rd place finish at Bristol) Jimmie sat down with his engineers and made a "wish list" of sorts that he wanted out of the car for Dover. Obviously the tactic is working for them and they're able to really pick apart what Jimmie likes and dislikes and implement it to the car. Every driver is different and these cars are exceptionally tempermental. Jeff Gordon ran bad at Dover because of his starting position and an admittedly poor adjustment on ONE stop that resulted in his lack of track position. It was not because Chad Knaus is "hoarding" information. If they could clone Chad and have him as all 4 crew cheifs, I'm sure they would--but on raceday his responsibility is the 48. He gives them all the information he can throughout the race weekend, and during the week the 24 and 48 are one "team" at the shop.

And I'll leave you with this, as one last bit of proof on how unselfish Chad Knaus is, from the horses mouth:

In response to the qualities he looks for in his HMS employees, Rick Hendrick's comments from last weeks teleconference:

"I can't tell you exactly how it's generated, but I'm proud of our people for rallying and when Mark Martin calls and says, 'What can I do?' And so does Jimmie and CHAD and Steve -- they all want to do what they can to help. I'm very proud of that and I feel like that's one reason we've been as successful as we have."

All this took ten minutes of Google searching for some quotes I had previously seen and a little background knowledge. Maybe put some effort into an article next time you want to try and bring down someone who has done nothing but HELP the Hendrick organization. Thanks.

June 7, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.
merryweather20 said...

This is an odd article considering Stevie's team is ahead of the Chad Knaus led 48 in points standings.

Yes Johnson has done very well at Dover, but Gordon has been superior at other tracks. Considering only 32 points separate the teams they must be very successful at sharing information!

June 8, 2009 at 11:38 a.m.
robcat48 said...

Oh my goodness. Not this again. Have we been paying attention for the last 15 minutes, or the last full 7 cup seasons? This is a not a new revelation- it has been going on since 2002. Jimmie is LESS THAN 100 COMBINED points (2004 and 2005) away from being the back2back2back2back2back defending series champion. What's the common variable in all this? Chad and Jimmie haved been together. Remember how Matt Kenseth and Robbie Rieser kicked everybody's butt at Roush? Tony and Zippy at JGR? Kyle and Steve at JGR in present time? Are all those folks selfishly withholding information? This must be a sport wide conspiracy within all teams..... you might be onto something here! Jimmie is fast beacuse Jimmie is exceptional, as is Chad, and the have the best equipment on the track. They are a special pair, together, or never would have achieved what they have. Give them the credit that they so obviuosly deserve instead of writing hogwash like this my friend. If you don't like it, lump it. Just don't waste your time trying to tear apart such a perfect model of professionalism, class, patience, diligence and precision.

June 9, 2009 at 2:48 p.m.
Linda_W said...

If you were really paying attention, you'd know Mark didn't get his lap under caution. He got the lap when Jimmie moved over, gave him the lap under green, so Martin could get the 5 points.

June 9, 2009 at 6:12 p.m.
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