Having spent most of their adult racing life together as driver and crew chief, 2016 Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are NASCAR’s answer to Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. They are a match made in motorized heaven.
Yes, there were issues this season when Johnson struggled to find victory lane, but nothing that warranted a potential breakup, as was reported. Not even close, Knaus said Wednesday after he and Johnson answered questions from students at Las Vegas’ Doral Academy charter school, a warmup lap to Champion’s Week in Las Vegas.
Sometimes the mainstream stock car racing media just likes to get stuff stirred up, Knaus said.
“That all came from you guys,” he said. “That’s the power of media — you guys throw stuff up to try to make it happen. That (a breakup) was never the case.”
Even if car owner Rick Hendrick said during championship week in Florida that it was the case, or at least that a split briefly had been considered amid spinning wheels during summertime.
Johnson and Knaus have been inseparable since forming a bond as driver and crew chief in 2002, Johnson’s rookie year at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s a marriage that has produced a record-tying seven Cup Series championships.
While Johnson gets most of the credit, at least among the sport’s casual fans, Knaus is pursuing eight championships himself as a crew chief. If the two team for another one, it will move Knaus ahead of Dale Inman, who won his seven titles as Richard Petty’s primary wrench-turner.
“I would love to be (mentioned) in the same sentence as Dale Inman,” Knaus said in a one-on-one session with local media after the sessions with the school kids. “He’s an amazing man, a huge, huge icon in our industry. But it’s not really what I’m about. I’m here to do the best I can for Jimmie, and for the 48 team, and for all of Hendrick Motorsports.
“If we’re fortunate to get an eighth championship, that’s fantastic. But it’s not about the numbers.”
LITTLE’S BIG HORSE PLAN
Jamie Little, the Fox pit road reporter from Las Vegas who will host Thursday’s NASCAR Victory Lap down the Strip with the Chase drivers, also is active in Las Vegas’ animal community and said she once had her heart set on owning a Budweiser Clydesdale.
“True story,” she said. “When (Budweiser) sponsored Kevin Harvick, I was given the opportunity to visit Warm Springs Ranch in Missouri and see where the horses are bred and raised. They offered me a Clydesdale of my own. I went on a mission to find a place to board it in Las Vegas but came up short. Those horses eat a ton and need a lot of room, and there isn’t much here.”
The Green Valley High graduate recently gave birth to a second child, a daughter named Sierra. One day she and husband Cody Selman, a local sandwich shop operator who moonlights as an Indy 500 tire changer, plan to own a farm, she said. Then maybe they’ll go Clydesdale shopping again.
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE
Just when you thought it was politics that made strange bedfellows comes the news release that musician Sting, who was born in England and lives in New York — neither of which is near the Mason-Dixon line or even Kansas Speedway — will be the headline performer at Friday’s Sprint Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas.
Sting’s new album includes a track called “Petrol Head,” around which was produced a NASCAR-themed video. The awards show will include musical artists American Authors, Skylar Grey and Olivia Holt.
“Saturday Night Live” alumnus Jay Mohr, who had a small part in the movie “Jerry McGuire,” will be shown the money for the sixth time as host.
CHASING THE LEGENDS
Other than Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, the only man who has won as many stock car racing championships as Jimmie Johnson was Elvis Presley in the movies. But Johnson said again Wednesday that he never saw championship No. 7 coming, at least not until Carl Edwards blocked Joey Logano, taking the two championship leaders out of contention during the final laps at Homestead, Florida.
“A series of restarts went our way, and we wound up winning the championship,” Johnson told students at Las Vegas’ Doral Academy, as if he still couldn’t believe it.
As for championship No. 8, which would move him into first place on the all-time list by his lonesome, Johnson said he only wants to win races and try to make that Championship 4 each year.
“I think that’s a realistic goal for us,” he said.
“What happens that night — it’s impossible to know. This year was absolute proof of that. We’re just there to race. We’re just out there because we love to compete.”