Aftermath, Homestead: In Hindsight, It Wasn't A Good Idea To Question Chad Knaus

Denny Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, questioned Chad Knaus' decision-making. That didn't turn out so well in the end.

When Joe Torre was winning World Series titles with the New York Yankees, you didn't hear other managers question his relief pitching decisions.

When Phil Jackson kept piling up NBA championships, you didn't hear other coaches saying the triangle offense was faulty.

Why not? Because it's not wise to question the winners. They win for a reason.

In that sense, the No. 48 team's fifth consecutive championship was all too predictable. When has challenging crew chief Chad Knaus ever ended well?

Jimmie Johnson had barely crossed the finish line on Sunday when Knaus – the mastermind behind five in a row –finished off a victory of his own.

Knaus got the last word in the pit crew swap debate with Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Mike Ford, turning to a camera and holding up a notecard that read, "Our team won." The word "team" was underlined.

It was a not-so-subtle jab at Ford, the Denny Hamlin crew chief who had accused Knaus of not being loyal to his team.

Ford's comments on the mid-race crew swap at Texas – which saw Johnson's crew basically benched in favor of Jeff Gordon's more consistent group – left Knaus bristling. Ford had said the pit crew swap was a "desperation move," said his team had been successful in rattling Johnson's and said the No. 11 team was better.

But what seemed to burn Knaus the most was Ford's assertion that because Hendrick swapped pit crews, "this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team."

Knaus took exception to those comments and insisted in every way possible that the move was all part of being one team.

"I didn't appreciate the way that they said that we were selfish and inconsiderate to the guys on our team when we had to pull them," Knaus said.

While most fans are familiar with the traditional model of pit crews being associated with a single driver, that's simply not how it works at Hendrick.

In many facets, Hendrick operates differently than other organizations. Though there are four cars, there are basically only two teams: The 24/48 team and the 5/88 team.

On the Hendrick campus, those two teams have their own shop. Knaus and Jeff Gordon's crew chief Steve Letarte run their joint team out of the building they refer to as the "248 shop" – a moniker that serves as another example of how merged the two cars are.

Crew members working inside the shop wear shirts with both DuPont and Lowe's logos; they build and prepare both cars. Everything is interchangeable (Gordon even used one of Johnson's cars at Homestead).

"We operate in that building as a single unit and we field two cars for two great drivers," Knaus said, "and we are going to do whatever we can to win as many races and as many championships out of that building as possible."

Though it may seem unusual to outsiders, this approach seems to work pretty well for Hendrick. Five straight championships – and 10 overall – are numbers no other organization has ever matched.

Ford's comment showed a lack of understanding about how Hendrick operates. Wouldn't it be a good idea to know as much as possible about the inner workings of the team that's just kicked everyone's ass for five straight years?

"We work for the team because there's 520-something people that work at Hendrick Motorsports, and we have a responsibility to them to do what's right," Knaus said. "If he can't see that or if they can't see that, then they aren't a team."

It's easy to see why some people don't like Knaus: He comes across as arrogant, acting as if his methods are superior.

But you know what? They are.

The 39-year-old from Illinois may very well be the greatest crew chief the sport has ever seen. That's saying an awful lot, considering NASCAR has seen the likes of Dale Inman and Ray Evernham, but Knaus has won five straight championships in the most competitive era yet.

Ford, meanwhile, may have cost his own team the championship when he misplayed the end of the Phoenix race. Hamlin and Johnson both pitted for the final time on the same lap; Johnson made it to the end with Knaus' guidance to save fuel; Hamlin was never informed he needed to save fuel and had to pit under green, costing at least 50 points.

Maybe Hamlin's car wasn't capable of stretching the fuel that far, like Johnson's was. But isn't that part of the crew chief's role as well?

The lesson here is that even if you believe your team is better, don't trash-talk the champions before they've been defeated.

It never seems to end well in sports, because the winners always have the last word. In this case, it belongs to Knaus.

"I think our team and our organization is better than what they have got at Gibbs," Knaus said. "Just the facts."

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