Chad Knaus: Despite big lead, it’s “rather simple” to keep 48 team motivated

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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.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.