In the end for Chad Knaus, innovation morphed into desperation.
Finding every little advantage, even while risking suspension and embarrassment, used to equate into a belief that his team and driver Jimmie Johnson were the best in NASCAR. Sure, it makes sense to push the limits when you know you have a winner. See New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his videotape of his opponents practicing.
Eventually, though, that passion to succeed at all costs can get out of control once you realize that you are no longer the king of the hill. Minus the foundation to win but burdened with the pressure to maintain that success is the perfect storm for radical and even terminal decisions.
I’ve had a bunch of people get in touch with me in the past week defending the Lowe’s team for its actions in Daytona. Their argument has been that NASCAR didn’t have a template to measure the C-posts so mangled that their modifications were visible to the naked eye, which got Knaus suspended for six weeks and his team docked 25 driver/owner points.
Folks, I can promise you that NASCAR officials who showed up at Daytona earlier this month also didn’t have a template lying around to measure the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird that hit the track more than 40 years ago. But if something that outside the box had shown up at the track, would NASCAR have just said, “Change that, then we’ll act as if nothing happened”?
This whole argument of where in the process NASCAR caught a cheater is a joke. When somebody plays with the body to this extent, it doesn’t matter whether it was caught in initial inspection or after qualifying. As I said recently, when somebody goes to rob a bank, I don’t care whether they pulled the gun out of their pocket before or after they entered the branch.
The bigger story here is the end of a NASCAR dynasty. The Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus partnership is history, at least from the standpoint of winning titles. I’ve long contended that Knaus’ drill sergeant ways would eventually implode a team that couldn’t deal with the pressure forever. Finally, Knaus has done his team a favor: He’s blown the team up before it got to that point.
Johnson, after the early Daytona wreck, now heads to Phoenix with -23 points and Knaus still atop the pit box while appealing the penalty. Johnson is looking for hope at this point. Instead, maybe he just needs to look for a new crew chief.
Follow Josh Stewart on Twitter @JoshNASCARWWE.