Chad Knaus Playing With Fire

Caught beneath all the hustle and bustle of last week’s Sprint Media Tour was a very interesting bit about Hendrick Motorsports and their pit crew situation for 2011 (see articles here and here).  Specifically, that Chad Knaus and his shop mate Steve Letarte had yet to really solidify their starting pit crew lineups for the season.  In an attempt to build depth for their over-the-wall crews, no doubt in response to last season’s debacle at Texas, Knaus and Letarte have put together the equivalent of three full crews.  Supposedly this will allow them to have capable guys available at the track in the event of injuries or performance issues.  Does this sound like trouble to anyone else?

Having backup pit crew guys is not a new phenomenon.  I actually wrote about it early last year (see post here).  There is too much at stake during these races to not have some sort of a contingency plan.  But it appears to me that Knaus and Letarte may have taken this too far.

What I see here, is two race teams with three pit crews.  And you have Knaus saying he has yet to settle on a lineup (let me remind you that the Budweiser Shootout is 11 days away).  With all the changes coming to the Cup Series this season in regards to the new fuel cans and procedures, these guys need all the time they can get to work through the difficulties of the new system.  The fact that Knaus can’t point to six guys and say “yup, that’s my pit crew” should worry 48 fans.

I also question whether having a third pit crew looking over your shoulder at all times is really good for morale.  I’m all for competition and having to earn your spot, but having another starting lineup hanging around will screw with your head.  Doing what we do can be a big head game as it is, without adding the extra pressure.

It’s also important to note that the really good pit crews are those that have had continuity, and have had ample time to work together and get to know each other.  I don’t know how you build any of that when you are constantly plugging in guys and facing the possibility of a different six every week.

I realize that I probably shouldn’t question the guy who’s been the man in charge of the team that’s won the last five straight championships.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Knaus is a really smart guy.  You don’t get to where he is unless you know a thing or two about people and race cars.  I just wonder if maybe he has over thought this situation because of his team’s issues last season.

Only time will tell if Knaus’ plan will pay dividends, but on initial inspection, I’m not sold.

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17 Responses to “Chad Knaus Playing With Fire”

  1. RAEckart says:

    Don’t think for a minute that Knaus wouldn’t leave a lot of loose ends around this story to throw other teams off. The psychological games begin early, friends.

    Those that worry about extra pit-crews will be beaten by their own imaginations. As long as Knaus and his guys have a clear understanding of their roles, however unusual or non-typical they may be, then that team is on it’s plan.

    Everyone who wrote a “Knaus Blows Up the 48″ after Texas was played for a complete chump. Don’t ever guess that you could run the 48 better than him.

    You have to run your team your way. Otherwise you’re spotting a championship team a clear advantage. Quit it. Try to spend the whole year not talking about the #48, but not making a big deal out of that. Only then are you playing at Knaus’ level.

  2. Scott says:

    I agree it sounds terrible but everything else Knaus has done has turned to gold so this will probaably be the way things are done by this time next year.

  3. steve says:

    It seems like the pressure on the pit crew will be more like that in other sports, where the subs stand on the sidelines or sitting in the dugout just waiting for someone to screw up. They seem to do okay knowing that they’re only a bad play or two from getting benched, why wouldn’t that be the case with pit crews?

  4. Jamie says:

    I have to agree with RAEckart. I am not a #48 fan BUT, I do think they are already playing the head games. Chad knew news like this would spread like wildfire.
    I’m a big fan of the #11 team and lets face it, Phoenix bit us in the butt and we all know how Chad was feeling after that one!
    So as a big fan of the #11 team, I’m not gonna worry about what the #48 team is up to….I think the other teams should all do the same.

  5. Donna says:

    I only hope and pray that things work out and the teams get along good and all gel together ..I think Chad has shot himself in the foot he has gone to far as far as I am concerned I just hope it doesn’t hurt the teams especially Jr. teams Jr. needs a team under him worthy of getting the job done and ones that get along and gel ..Good luck and hopes all goes smoothly ..

  6. fireball doowah says:

    Hendrick in general, and the 48 specifically have continued to set the standard on how multi-car teams effectively function. Furthermore, JJ has proven that he can drive himself into the chase w/ a sputtering crew. I am confident that any hiccups they have at Daytona will be worked out the end of the regular season at Richmond.

  7. MS says:

    I disagree with one part of what RAEckart said in that I do believe last year was a real problem for the 48 after Texas. It was a very risky move with questionable results, and most importantly there was no effective hedge in place if it all went sour on them.

    However…since Chad made his bed so to speak with that move, I do believe the current move is exactly the right move to carry on in that direction. This move puts in place the appropriate hedge that was missing last year and the hedge is the ‘bench system’ that steve mentions.

    I agree with steve that this is really no different than any other sport to have a solid bench ready and waiting at all times. In fact over time we may see something similar to what we see in pro ball sports and see “situational” crew members that come in for very specific circumstances.

    I do agree with RAEckart’s conclusion that Chad plays at the highest level, and this latest move proves that to me. However, my guess is he didn’t come up with it on his own and my guess is he and Hendrick came up with this together. But that said, I have no doubt he has the skill to implement it sucessfully. And interestingly this move has a built in hedge in that if it doesn’t gel after a certain number of races they can always go back to the ‘old way’.

  8. Zieke says:

    Chad may have over analyzed this, but with the money these guys are making, I guess they can deal with it. If the crew’s ego gets too big, they will be gone anyway. It’s the crew chief swapping that worries me more than that.

  9. Neon says:

    I wonder if this “3rd crew” will be suited up behind the pit wall (?which one?) in firesuits spilt down the middle w/ equal Lowes and AMP/Mountain Dew embroidery.
    So much for saving costs by eliminating the catch-can-man!

  10. MS says:

    NEON brings up a good point about cost containment. If what is going on at Hendrick works, I can see other owners quickly moving to get roster limits and even crew team salary caps.

  11. Jim says:

    What Would Lombardi Do?

  12. knobcreekfan says:

    Cost containment is a myth. NASCAR can talk about cost containment all they want, the teams are going to continue to spend whatever they have to be competitive. They cut down on testing, teams just spent millions on shaker rigs. The cost to have the catch-can guy there is nothing for these teams.

  13. Kevin says:

    It is just healthy competition. Like the backup quarterback, the bullpen or the backup goalie. A team isn’t limited only to the guys on the field at one time. If someone falters, you have the opportunity to pull another guy in. They are all part of the team, and at the end of the day will all have the opportunity to contribute to the teams successes and failures. It is no different than switching pit crews last year. The 48 group still won the championship, and the 248 building got the trophy and the party. They all feel like they had something to do with the championship & some of them came out of it feeling like they had something to prove. Those that it had a negative mental impact on aren’t the guys that I want on my team to begin with!

  14. Ric says:

    Got a news flash for you: Hendricks have had backup people behind the wall for years!! Chad even mentioned it last year after the massive crew exchange happened. IF I remember the article correctly, between the 24 and 48 behind the wall people they could field a complete over the wall gang with spares.

    He also mentioned that several times thru the year they had swapped personnel. Not sure if he was talking swapping from/to 24/48 or with people behind the wall. SO having backups and swapping them in as needed is nothing new there.

  15. Tim S. says:

    Smacks of a typical Hendrick PR thing to me, to avoid looking as though he threw a crew under the bus if the same decision is made this year.

  16. Kevin says:

    Chad’s decision take out his pit crew & put Jeff Gordons in, won him a championship. In pro sports, there are 2nd & 3rd string players. Why not do this in NASCAR?

  17. T.C. says:

    Ric: I don’t know if your comment is directed at me or the other commenters, but I made mention in the post about backup guys being common:

    Having backup pit crew guys is not a new phenomenon. I actually wrote about it early last year (see post here). There is too much at stake during these races to not have some sort of a contingency plan.

    Having second stringers is one thing, but having multiple groups of first stringers could be problematic, I think.

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