As Jimmie Jonson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team head into Indianapolis to defend their Brickyard 400 title, they’re doing so with a 56-point lead in the Sprint Cup championship standings. But in seven weeks’ time, everything will reset for them and the rest of the title contenders as they enter the Chase.
For Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, that makes it easy to keep the team focused as the regular season winds down.
“As far as keeping our feet on the ground, it’s really rather simple with the group of guys that we’ve got,” Knaus said yesterday in a conference call. “We all know that in seven weeks, this is all going away: This point lead, the momentum, the victories, all that is going to mean nothing as soon as we get to Chicagoland Raceway, and when we get there, we have to be on top of [our game].
“So to motivate these guys right now isn’t really ‑‑ the issue is making them realize that in seven weeks, they have to take their games to the next level and that’s really hard to do. Because if you sit back now and think that you can coast until Chicago, you’re sadly mistaken, because the most important thing to do going into Chicago is to make sure you have momentum on your side, and that’s what our focus is.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be a place where that momentum continues to build for them. Johnson and Knaus have claimed four Brickyard 400 wins, including their victory last year, which saw Johnson lead 99 of 160 laps and pull away to a win by almost five seconds.
To Knaus, momentum doesn’t particularly affect how he, Johnson and the 48 crew prepare each week. But, in his words, “it damn sure doesn’t hurt” and gives them confidence in their decision making – especially when it comes on the fly.
“It just gives you a level of comfort to be able to go out there and attack,” Knaus said on why that intangible matters so much. “A lot of the decisions that we make, we want to say that we are so educated and we are so prepared; a lot what have we do is just off the hip.”