NASCAR’s Chad Knaus, NFL coach Ron Rivera swap strategies, philosophies

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While he probably can’t throw a football more than 20 or 30 yards, Chad Knaus is a diehard Carolina Panthers fan.

And while football and stock car racing are polar opposites, they do have some similarities, particularly when it comes to team building, success, strategy and preparation for each game or race.

Knaus, a six-time Sprint Cup champion crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, recently called Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera to throw around and share ideas that might be beneficial to both men, according to ESPN.com’s David Newton.

What was supposed to be a casual meeting turned into a multi-hour brainstorming session between the two men, Newton wrote.

Rivera, who won 2013 NFL coach of the year honors at the end of last season, was particularly interested in how Knaus and his team have maintained a standard of excellence for so long, including six championships in 10 consecutive trips to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“One of the things we’re trying to figure out is how do we sustain the success?” Rivera told Newton. “Listening to (Knaus) talk about the way they review each year and how they try to find these next-level things, that was pretty impressive.”

Rivera knows about being pretty impressive. After it appeared his Panthers would have to endure a poor season in 2013, starting the regular season 1-3, they went on to win 11 of their next 12 games to finish the regular season 12-4.

“The one thing (Knaus) said was don’t expect to start up (high),” Rivera told Newton. “You go down here and get better here and go to the top. That was probably one of the more helpful parts of our conversation.”

Another part of their conversation was how to bring together different individuals to work collectively as a single entity, all in the pursuit of excellence and success.

“This guy may jack the car up a 10th of a second faster, but he doesn’t work as well together with others,” Rivera said, “while this guy may be a 10th of a second slower, yet he works well with everybody. We’re the same way. It’s about, ‘How does this guy fit in the locker room?'”

In much the same way as he did after similar conversations with former NFL coaching greats John Madden and Mike Ditka, Rivera transcribed the tape of his meeting with Knaus to readily have access to the NASCAR crew chief’s philosophies, strategies, ideas and ways of doing things that could be translated for use in the NFL.

Knaus likewise took a lot of notes during the meeting. There’s no question both men learned from the other.

“The more I talk to people in the military, in other sports, people who are successful in other fields, the formula isn’t that different for any environment,” Knaus said. “It’s all about teamwork, communication. It’s how you approach the day. Ron (Rivera) has that.”

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F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.