Heading into the season's final race with a chance to win the championship is a feeling Chad Knaus knows all too well. It's a position the No. 48 team he leads as crew chief has been in nine of the last 10 years.
The feeling of being in contention is one Knaus not only thrives on, but relishes. It drives him. It pushes him.
"I live for these last 10 weeks, and once we get through these next 10 weeks, I can't wait to get through the next 26 (races) so I can get to these 10 weeks next year," Knaus said. "This is what we live for. This is what we enjoy. We like the pressure."
In an era of unprecedented parity, that the 48 team is perennially title contenders speaks volumes to the juggernaut Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have built. Since 2002, the two have worked in tandem, seemingly in lockstep with one another; Knaus atop the pit box, Johnson behind the wheel. The duo has won 64 races -- Johnson has two more victories but they came while Knaus was serving a NASCAR-imposed suspension.
But as the seasons pass by and the pressure and demands continue to mount, how long can the notoriously intense Knaus continue and not burn out? It's a question he doesn't even know the answer to.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Knaus said. "You know, one day we'll wake up and I'll probably just check out and be gone. We just have to wait for that day to arise. But right now I really enjoy what it is that I'm doing."
The immediate focus for Knaus doesn't center on his future, but on clinching what would be his and Johnson's sixth title.
Following a third-place finish last Sunday, Johnson holds a 28-point lead over Matt Kenseth. It's a margin that gives the 48 team breathing room as all Johnson must do is finish 23rd or better without leading a lap. But even though their sixth championship is well within sight, Knaus is taking no chances.
The team is bringing to Homestead its biggest bullet, as Johnson will have the car he raced to a dominant victory two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway. It's also the same car he won with at Dover International Speedway and nearly won with at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Typically it takes four weeks to turn around a car, but because of the circumstances and because of its record of success, the decision was made to bring this car to Homestead -- one of just five tracks where Johnson has yet to win.
"I told the guys (Tuesday) was whatever we have to do, if we have to work 24 hours a day, if you have to sacrifice time at home, if you have to sacrifice lunch, if you have to do whatever you can to make sure that that car is as prepared as it possibly can be and you are as prepared as you possibly can be for that event," Knaus said. "Any pain that you feel between now and Sunday, you won't remember that 20 years from now. But what you will remember is if you win that championship and you have that ring."
Even with the team's best car and a sizeable point lead, Knaus refuses to be at ease. He's quick to point out examples where guys entered Homestead with a comfortable margin only to see it quickly disappear.
"Go talk to Denny Hamlin and ask him what happened a couple years ago when he came in with the points lead," Knaus said. "It's so easy to throw these things away. We see it time and time again.
"There's things that you cannot control, there's things that you can control, and we've got to make sure that we can control what is in our ability and put our best foot forward. If we don't, if we let something slip, it could be a big problem."