CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF OF THE NO. 24 AXALTA ‘COLOR OF THE YEAR’ CAMARO ZL1 1LE FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, spoke with media via video conference to discuss safety protocols for his teams, how they have prepared for Darlington, and more. Transcript:
CAN YOU TELL US HOW MUCH TIME YOU HAVE SPENT FACE-TO-FACE WITH YOUR TEAM AND ROAD CREW AND THE TYPES OF PRECAUTIONS YOU’VE TAKEN THIS WEEK FOR SUNDAY’S RACE?
“Do you mean personally or via computer?”
“Really none. I saw my team today for the first time. My pit crew. And I was in my car while they were doing pit stops and that was it. So, really, I haven’t been at Hendrick Motorsports. I went there three weeks ago to pick up something for my printer and other than that, I haven’t been there at all. So, no face-to-face or contact with these guys whatsoever. Everything has been on team meetings and looking at them just like I’m looking at you now (via Zoom).
SO YOU WON’T HAVE TOUCHED THE CAR AT ALL UNTIL MAYBE YOU HELP PUSH IT THROUGH TECH ON SUNDAY?
“I haven’t seen the race car at all. Nope, haven’t seen it or touched it. Nothing.”
I’M SURPRISED YOU’RE STILL BREATHING (LAUGHTER)
“That’s the recommendation by NASCAR for the traveling teams to stay as isolated as they can and try to keep everybody at the race track as healthy as we can and that’s the protocol we put into place and that’s what we’ve been abiding by.”
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT STRATEGIZING FOR THIS RACE AS FAR AS SET-UP? DO YOU JUST LOOK AT LAST YEAR’S DARLINGTON RACE AND TRY TO DO SOMETHING OFF THAT? DO YOU ASSUME THINGS HAVE CHANGED? WHERE DO YOU GO FOR A STARTING POINT?
“Well, that’s a great question (laughs). It’s not easy, man. We obviously used last year as a baseline; 2019 was a solid race for us at Darlington. We qualified on the pole. We raced really well. We lost some track position early and we kind of ran around seventh most of the day until the end when we were caught-up in an accident. So, we used that as a baseline. Obviously the Camaro was a new beast for us, so we had a really good race in Las Vegas. Our teammates had a really good run in Fontana. So we took the data from there and applied those offsets to the best of our ability and where we feel like the characteristics re going to be when we go to Darlington and kind of came up with what it was; the derivative of 2019 with a little bit of what we’ve learned so far in the mix.”
I REALIZE YOU’VE HAD TO REALLY GO BACK ON THE AMOUNT OF PERSONNEL YOU’VE HAD IN THE SHOP. WHERE HAVE YOU HAD TO CUT AND MAYBE GET A LITTLE BIT INNOVATIVE OR CREATIVE WITH SOME OF THE PROCESSES TO GET THINGS READY FOR THE RACE TRACK?
“It’s been a huge challenge and I really have to throw a lot of thank-yous and a lot of accolades to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports because it’s not been an easy process to get back in there in a very, very short period of time and get race cars ready to go to a very unique venue. Darlington is quite a lot different than any other race track that we go to, obviously. But, we’ve got staggered work hours. We’ve got blocks of people that work. We’re not really alternating days. We’re going in blocks of days to try to keep the exposure down to a minimum.
“We’re thermal testing people as they come into the facility. You see everybody wearing their masks and practicing social distancing. We’re doing all that we can to be in accordance with the CDC regulations and what the governor has put out there, to make sure we’re doing what’s right and being smart. It’s not easy. As we were chatting a little bit ago, I haven’t seen the race car. The Car Chief hasn’t seen the race cars. My guys that are going to be at the race track are basically going to show up and say, okay, hey what have we got here and let’s get after it.’ It’s all unique but it’s actually been educational for the folks that are working at the shop to make sure they cars show up at the race track with the best amount of detail that’s capable of being put in our cars. It’s been good. It’s unique for sure, for everybody, but it’s what’s necessary at this time.”
WITH NO PRACTICE OR QUALIFYING AND JUST SHOW-UP AND ‘RUN WHAT YOU BRUNG’, THAT’S NOW GOING TO BE THE CASE. CAN THESE RACES BE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR TEAMS TO CAPITALIZE IF THEY’RE ABLE TO UNLOAD WITH SOMETHING REALLY CLOSE, WHEREAS OTHER TEAMS MAY STRUGGLE? OR, WILL THE RACES STILL BE LONG ENOUGH THAT IT’S GOING TO BE THE SAME OLD RISING TO THE TOP MID-WAY AND TOWARD THE END OF THEM?
“I think the potential for somebody to really hit on it and have an advantage, is definitely there. Absolutely. Although, like what you mentioned, I think the best teams will still manage to work their way toward the front, either by the end of the race or by the end of this little jaunt that we’ve got going on. The best teams out there are going to learn from their experiences in the first couple of races and be able to build upon that; and the best teams have a very deep notebook. I think if you go to any venue, and you don’t think that a Kyle Busch or a Chase Elliott are not going to rumble, I think you’re just kind of fooling yourself, right? They’ve got depth. They’ve got time and tenure with their crew chief. So, they’ve got a lot to fall back on. So, I think the best teams will still be the best teams when it’s all said and done.”
AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, EACH OF THE FOUR TEAMS ARE TAKING AN ENGINEER EACH THIS WEEKEND. SOME OF THE ORGANIZATIONS ARE LEAVING ENGINEERS AT HOME TO HAVE THE EXTRA CREW MEMBER THERE TO HELP WITH THE CAR. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS FOR THAT?
“Well, it’s interesting because when you say an ‘engineer’…. For my instance, one of my engineers is very mechanically inclined. So, he can cross over and do a multitude of things. It’s not like he’s just hugging a computer, right? So, I think every team is being adjusted per their strengths and what they feel their needs are. Some times, all their engineers do is look at a computer, right? And they have no value at the race track and can do everything remotely. So, it just depends on what your strengths are and what you need. Personally, I need my engineer. I’m not smart enough to go out there and do it by myself. I have to have somebody hold my hand. These guys are very well-rounded and that’s why they’re going to the race track in case things come up. And, I feel honestly, that the preparation at the shop is what’s going to really be the key. So, we wanted to keep a good, strong, staff of mechanics at the shop with good and recent race track experience, to try to make sure that when we unload the race car that we’re absolutely race ready.”
NASCAR HAS SHARED THE FACT THAT AS PART OF THE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS, THEY ARE ASKING EVERYONE THAT COMES TO THE TRACK TO KEEP A LOG OR JOURNAL OF THEIR WHEREABOUTS AND CONTACTS, IF NEEDED FOR FUTURE TRACING. CAN YOU SHARE ANYTHING ABOUT THE TYPES OF INFORMATION YOU’RE HAVING TO KEEP A LOG OF?
“That would be very difficult for me to manage exactly whoever we’re in contact with. We’re trying to do everything we can to be in compliance with what NASCAR is asking for. And then we’re just trying to manage like, okay, we’re going to be around this group of guys. And as long as you stay with that group of guys, you really know where you’re going to be. We’re not going to do a lot of cross-talking with other teams or other officials. So, we’re really just trying to keep that pared down so that it’s easy to make that determination when it’s all said and done. I think that’s what we really have to do. And, that’s the wisest way to go about it. So, everybody’s got responsibility in this because the goal is for nobody to get sick and for nobody to have a big problem. So, we have to do our best as an industry to make that happen so we can get out there and keep racing and put on a great show for the fans and we can get our fill for the completion that we’re looking for. We’re all going to do everything in our power to do what NASCAR needs and everybody around us needs.”
WHEN IT COMES TO THE SAFETY PROTOCOLS, HOW MUCH DIRECTION IS COMING FROM NASCAR VERSUS HENDRICK VERSUS YOUR OWN SAFETY PRECAUTIONS?
“There’s a lot of information out there, as we all know. And we’re all trying to sift through that and we’re using the best information we possibly can. Obviously NASCAR is our sanctioning body and they’ve done a lot of work to lay the ground rules we’re making sure we’re following what it is that they need to do and what they’ve recommended. We’re also doing everything we can to follow the governor’s wishes, the local governor’s wishes, and the CDC. We’re taking all of that information and providing the teams with all the equipment that they’re going to need as far as the masks and whatnot, and we’re going to go ahead and try to stick with that as best we possibly can. It’s not easy. Everybody is throwing you different information from all of these angles. We’re trying to keep it consolidated to the local and state governments and NASCAR and just honestly, using our heads a little bit.”
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CREW CHIEF IS TO MANAGE THE TEAM AND IF THEY DO SOMETHING WRONG, YOU’RE IN CHARGE AND RESPONSIBLE. TALK ABOUT THAT AS IT RELATES TO ALL YOUR TEAM MEMBERS DOING WHAT THEY’RE REQUIRED TO DO, INCLUDING YOUR DRIVER. AND WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN IN GENERAL?
‘Yeah, it’s tough because we are ultimately responsible and we sign our name on that line, it’s tough. Jimmie Johnson always said I’ve signed my name on the wrong line. I picked the hard job, you picked the easy job, right? And, it’s a difficult thing. But we’ve been educating our guys consistently and providing them with materials that they need and trying to give them proper direction and a clear direction. There is so much information out there that it can get cluttered and cloudy really quick. So, we’re trying to be very specific about what the needs need to be and how they need to approach the weekend and putting forward protocol so it’s easy for them to follow. And look, if something happens and the guys make a mistake, it’s a mistake. And if they’re held accountable for it, look, I get it. Now if one of the guys just get out of line and is just going off the rails and not doing what we feel he should be, then that’s a personal problem that we’re going to handle ourselves. So ultimately yeah, I guess it all falls on me and I’ll deal with it.”
IT SOUNDS LIKE SOME TEAMS ARE GOING TO HAVE A CONTINGENCY PLAN WHERE THEY MAY HAVE CREW MEMBERS IN THE VICINITY OR EVEN A BACK-UP DRIVER JUST IN CASE THEY NEED TO RELY ON THEM. DOES HENDRICK HAVE A PLAN LIKE THAT?
“We’re going a good job, I feel, of that. We’ve got a complete track protocol group, and at-track-activation group, that we’ve worked with and I was a huge part of that. We’ve got some very responsible people that are working on that and we’ve got a complete list of team members we’re going to have that are prepared to go to the race track and we’re keeping dibs on and understanding where they’re at from a health standpoint and they’re in the back-up roster that’s been submitted to NASCAR already. We’re going through and have them on-the-ready. For instance, let’s say Joe Mechanic gets up on Sunday morning and he’s getting ready to drive to Darlington and he’s got a fever, he calls me and I tell Joe to stay home and we call Bob and bring him in. We call the proper people at NASCAR that this person has already been cleared and tested and we’re ready to rock and roll with this fellow. That’s how we’re doing it. I hope we don’t have to deal with that, but we like to be prepared nonetheless, in a case of emergency. We’ve dealt with everything from drivers all the way down to crew chiefs.”
WILL THE FIRST SUNDAY DARLINGTON RACE MIRROR THE SECOND? ARE YOU GOING TO BE TAKING A LOT OF NOTES AND SEARCHING FOR IMPROVEMENT FOR THE MIDWEEK RACE, REGARDLESS OF HOW YOU’RE DOING? AND, DO YOU GUYS HAVE BRANDED FACE MASKS?
“Nice to throw that one in there at the end (laughs)! We do not have branded face masks but we have some really nice face masks that we think are going to keep our guys really safe. Hendrick Motorsports has done an amazing job of really trying to be prepared in all levels. You bring up a great point. What happens if you go and you run well, and what happens if you don’t run well? Why, right? We’ve got a couple of options right now on the No. 24 car. If things don’t go the way we want them to, we’ve got a whole other package that we’re ready to put into our next race car to take to the race track. If we go and it runs well and just needs a little bit of massaging, then we just go ahead and take that race car, with the right set-up in it, and just adjust a little bit. Going from the 400 to the 300, I don’t know that it’s going to be significantly different because of the greenness of the race track that we’re going to have. It’s going to rubber-up fairly quickly, I understand that but it’s still going to be fairly green. By the time we get there and we race later in the evening, the track’s going to be a little bit cooler and the grip level will come back up a little bit. So, we’re just going to have to wait and see. If you see a car go out there and run really well on Sunday, my dime would be that he’s probably going to come back and run pretty well again on Wednesday.”
— Team Chevy —