Reunited with Jimmie Johnson in sports cars, Chad Knaus ‘tremendously enjoys’ new racing

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Chad Knaus loves sports cars so much, he stayed up for 42 consecutive hours in January at his first Rolex 24 at Daytona and giddily posted constant social media updates.

But as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship became a significant part of his professional existence this year, Knaus has downsized his commitment to cool cars on the personal side. The owner of a supercharged Z06 Corvette (and also a vintage car enthuisast) recently sold a Porsche C4S and had his eye on an electric four-door Porsche that Jeff Gordon has been driving – until reality prevailed.

“Man, it’s just so sad,” Knaus, the father of two kids aged 2 years and 11 months, told NBC Sports with a laugh. “Gordon drove up the other day, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to get it!’ And then I was like, “Man, baby seats just won’t fit in that thing very well.’ It just takes the cool factor right out of it.”

Though having entered a new stage of life, the Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition still is getting his fix for fast cars featuring gorgeously sleek stylings.

But now it’s on the racetrack — with the No. 48 Ally Cadillac jointly fielded by Action Express and Hendrick Motorsports at IMSA endurance races this season. The car had a strong debut at Daytona International Speedway (finishing second in the Rolex 24 season opener) and was on pace for a podium finish in the Twelve Hours of Sebring (before being negated by a penalty).

Chad Knaus sports cars
Chad Knaus watches in the pits of the No. 48 Cadillac team before the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

The DPi entry will make its third start Sunday at Watkins Glen International in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Kamui Kobayashi sharing the wheel. A contingent of Hendrick team members led by Knaus will help pit and prepare the car for Sunday’s race (9:30 a.m., NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com, Track Pass on NBC Sports Gold; replay: 7 p.m., NBCSN).

“I’ve enjoyed it tremendously to experience a new type of racing,” said Knaus, who has worked in NASCAR’s premier series for three decades. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s really a neat genre of racing. It’s definitely a cult-type following, just like NASCAR is. We have our communal groups, and it’s the same thing over there. It’s just a different vibe.

“Obviously, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Ally Cadillac, of course, but man, you see the Corvettes roll through, all these other classes in GT or LMP2, and they’re all really unique and fun cars. It’s a lot of fun seeing these cool cars and the technology and the folks around them.”

Chad Knaus sports cars
The No. 48 Ally Cadillac Racing team makes a pit stop at Sebring International Raceway (IMSA).

It’s also reunited Knaus and Johnson, the driver-crew chief pairing that produced seven Cup Series championships and 83 victories in NASCAR’s premier series from 2002-18.

Knaus, who turns 50 in August, transitioned into a managerial role this year at Hendrick Motorsports (and has been overseeing competition as the team has produced one of its best seasons in recent memory), freeing him from a crew chief’s weekly travel grind. He now has time to pursue many bucket-list items he and Johnson dreamed of doing together, such as the Baja 1000 and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the opportunity arose for Johnson to race the 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona with sponsorship from Ally (which backed his final two seasons in NASCAR), he pitched team owner Rick Hendrick on having Knaus help direct the project.

“What was required of him as a crew chief in the Cup Series just took so much time, and he tried to watch other forms of motorsport from afar and certainly has a love for sports car racing,” Johnson said. “He’s always asked me a lot of questions about the (IMSA) experiences I’ve had. He is really excited to be here, as am I excited to have him.”

Chad Knaus sports cars
Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson watch the monitors during March 18 practice for the Twelve Hours of Sebring (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to be a part of it,’ ” said Knaus, who also has Le Mans and Formula One races on his wishlist. “Now how much can I contribute? Man, it’s really difficult. It’s like bringing in a really good football player to try to help somebody play baseball. They’re a little different. I feel like we as a company at Hendrick Motorsports are providing a resource on pit road that’s valuable. They’ve been practicing diligently and gotten the pit stops faster from where we started in Daytona. So that’s a great thing.

IMSA

“My involvement in Daytona and Sebring was pretty high. Unfortunately on the Cup side, I’ve been really, really busy recently. So we’re going to discuss what my job description is going to be when we get to Watkins Glen, and I hope that I can contribute. But it’s a lot of fun when you’ve got a driver from France, a driver from Japan, a driver from El Cajon. You’ve got a race engineer that’s Scottish. It’s just a completely different vibe.”

There have been commonalities, though.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed the most about it is a racer from any other continent is still a racer,” Knaus said. “We’re there for one thing, and that’s to extract as much speed out of any race car that we possibly can.

“You talk to some of these guys that are cultured and cured endurance racers. Their mindset is way different than these Cup drivers I’ve dealt with my whole career. And no disrespect to Cup drivers, but they’re not as coddled. They’re very raw. They’re very aggressive. It’s just a different, different mindset, so it’s pretty fun.”

But it sometimes gets tricky interpreting heavily accented radio transmissions that can include snippets of French and Japanese as a race intensifies.

“The English kind of breaks down a little bit, and you’re like, ‘Oh, what did he say? Can you help with that?’ and everybody in the back is saying, “I think he said this!’ ” Knaus said, laughing. “But when you’re face to face with the guys, they all get it. They talk understeer and oversteer, loose and tight, and they talk braking ability and center of pressure. All the things that we do on the Cup side, just in a different term.

“And that gave me a lot of comfort that I’ve got a good understanding of the fundamentals of this product.”


Knaus was comfortable enough to try a new role as the No. 48 strategist at Sebring, which turned out an extremely challenging race weekend.

After a stuck throttle in practice required a pedal assembly swap, Johnson crashed late in qualifying. Rebuilding the car virtually from scratch (IMSA teams don’t have backups prepared as precisely as in Cup), the team worked in the garage past 1 a.m. before returning a few hours later to prepare for a 10 a.m. start.

“It was frightening to me when we went to unload the backup car, and it was a tub,” said Knaus, who pitched in by inserting a new windshield. “Oh my God! What in the world are we going to do now? But man, everyone just rolled up their sleeves and rock and rolled. It was an amazing experience.”

Johnson spun again 15 minutes after the green flag, but the damage was negligible, and the ensuing strategy propelled the No. 48 into the lead.

Yet with just more than three of 12 hours remaining, the team was informed of violating a maximum drive time rule (Pagenaud was behind the wheel for 50 seconds over a limit of four hours during a six-hour stretch).

Knaus took full blame for an error he said was “painful. It was awful. We still had an opportunity to win that race even through all the spinning, crashes and all that stuff. So that was heartbreaking, and I was traumatized for that.

“I went in a little bit naïve thinking I could just do this thing pretty easily and not understanding all the rules at the same time. Obviously, experience pays dividends in anything, and we just didn’t have the fundamentals set correctly. And what hurt us was just the cadence of everything: Spinning, crashing, spinning again. It just knocked the wheels off, and one got by us. I felt terrible. I don’t know that I had left a race feeling as bad in a long, long time.”

Knaus said the team would decide this week if he handle tactics at the Glen. At Sebring, he quickly got acclimated to the rhythm of a 12-hour race (compared to the 708 Cup races he called that would run three to four hours; Sunday’s six-hour event will be in a more familiar window).

“I didn’t think it was that different,” Knaus said of IMSA strategy. “It was fine until I screwed up. Prior to that mistake, it was really enjoyable. You run more off of the time than the laps on the Cup side. So that’s not a difficult transition. You get it pretty quickly with the data that’s provided. You can really make some fun calls.”


Knaus and Hendrick also are getting a sneak peek at the future of NASCAR. The NextGen car that will enter Cup in 2022 shares much with a sports car, including an independent rear suspension, sturdier braking and larger aluminum wheels with a single lug nut that demands a heavier pit gun.

Knaus noted that much of the technology will be new to Hendrick’s crew chiefs while some Cup teams might have an edge in familiarity because of their sister IMSA and IndyCar operations.

“Especially if we do more road courses or street circuits (in NASCAR), getting that information is going to be valuable,” Knaus said. “The guys at Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Roush that have their fingers and tentacles in other areas and genres of racing, I feel they’re going to have an advantage over us because they have had the experience. Now how long will that advantage last, or to what degree, has yet to be seen. But the comfort level for a lot of those folks is going to be significantly higher.”

A pit crew comprised of Hendrick Motorsports team members changes tires on the No. 48 Cadillac at Sebring (IMSA).

With an IMSA pit crew hand-picked by Knaus, Hendrick has deployed a mix of pit crew athletes and road mechanics to the IMSA effort to hone its NextGen knowledge base and pit stop choreography. Team owner Rick Hendrick, who once dabbled in sports cars, attended Sebring and texted Knaus for updates during the Rolex 24.

But after the Glen, the Action Express-Hendrick No. 48 alliance is slated for one more race (the Nov. 13 season finale at Road Atlanta). Knaus hopes to be at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year (“Whoever needs somebody to help lug some stuff around, I’m here!”), but it won’t be with his NASCAR team – though he isn’t ruling out Hendrick revisiting sports cars in the future with IMSA’s LMDh class arriving in 2023.

“Mr. Hendrick thought it was awesome,” Knaus said of Sebring. “But Mr. H is really smart, and he understands the foundation of Hendrick Motorsports is the Cup deal. We try to keep our scope pretty narrow, and we’ve managed pretty well in that manner.

“With (NextGen), I don’t know how much extracurricular activity we’ll be able to actually do. Maybe a year after, we can talk about some stuff. Maybe we can do a few more. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Knaus, who said he set “a personal record – sober” for consecutive hours awake at Daytona (“Jimmie and I had some parties where we managed to go from the All-Star Race well into the next day”), especially relishes the direct interaction with Johnson again.

“I haven’t really talked to him much — he’s been so ingrained in the IndyCar program and the hustle and bustle we have on the Cup side is at an all-time high,” Knaus said. “But man, we get to the racetrack, it’s awesome. I really enjoy seeing the smile on his face. I think he sees I’m enjoying myself. It’s been a lot of fun for the both of us for sure.

“Other people do other things on the weekends. Why can’t I just go to another race? Some guys go on vacation and ride motorcycles. I like cool race cars.”

(IMSA)

IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.


Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”


Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”


After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”


Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”


Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”


Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”


In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”