How milk and cookies saved the Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus partnership

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Before six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus got started on their shared reign of dominance atop the sport, the duo almost broke apart over their respective egos.

But then their boss, team owner Rick Hendrick, called a meeting between them – complete with milk, cookies, and the edict that nobody was leaving the room until everybody had been honest with themselves.

The “milk and cookies” meeting has long been common knowledge, but still holds a degree of notoriety considering what happened on the track after it took place. Johnson, imbued with calm, California cool, and Knaus, imbued with never-ending intensity, have since gone on to stake their claim as one of the greatest driver/crew chief combos in NASCAR history.

“For me, it comes down to respect and trust,” Johnson tells NBCSports.com’s Joe Posnanski in today’s edition of The Big Read. “I think Chad and I always respected each other…But I don’t know that we trusted each other as much as we needed to in those early days. I don’t know that we felt like the other person was always being completely honest.”

But the meeting was able to let both Johnson and Knaus know the importance of communication and being forthright with each other.

“We have had a lot of painful conversations,” Knaus said. “Nothing is out of bounds. We have had fights about attitude, work ethic, dedication, tough things like that.

“I think we can to realize that it’s OK to ask hard questions if you believe the answer you’re going to get.”

As Posnanski writes, drivers like Johnson wants controllable cars and crew chiefs like Knaus want fast cars. That conflict never goes away and it can rip a team apart and ruin a season.

But while Johnson and Knaus still have their differences from time to time, they’re smart enough to know that the greater good is more important than whatever individual desires they have respectively.

And they’re also smart enough to know that they compliment the other very well – Knaus bringing his mechanical talents that squeeze extra speed out of the car, and Johnson bringing his almost supernatural feel for driving those cars.

Together, they’ve managed to become the team that’s always that little bit ahead of their competition. They’ve become a team that is destined to be remembered for many, many years to come.

All of that – from milk and cookies.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.