KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Daniel Knost, crew chief for the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, will call just his sixth race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend as the team heads to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Sunday’s STP 500.
Knost scored his first top-five as a Sprint Cup crew chief last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., with a third-place finish, but he knows he has to continue learning each week in his new position. Thankfully, learning is nothing new to the 35-year-old who has a Ph.D. in engineering. Knost knows that his extensive education will serve him well and accelerate his learning curve.
Knost graduated in 2001 from North Carolina State University in Raleigh with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, but he wasn’t satisfied and felt he needed to continue his education to be proficient in any career. Knost decided to continue his pursuit of higher education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, where he earned a masters of science degree in 2003 and a doctorate in the same field in 2008.
When Knost wasn’t studying mechanical engineering, he was reading about his favorite sports teams. He grew up playing a variety of team sports, including football, baseball, basketball and tennis, and realized he missed competitive sports. Knost missed the camaraderie of a team and longed for the thrill of competition.
It was then that Knost saw an opportunity to use his engineering skill and apply it to a career in a competitive sport – NASCAR.
Knost grew up in south Charlotte, approximately 30 minutes from a hotbed of NASCAR’s premier race teams in Mooresville, N.C., but he really didn’t have any connection to the sport. His family had never been involved in racing, and he didn’t have access to it while he was growing up other than attending a few races as a fan.
That was until one of his closest friends growing up – and his doubles partner in tennis – worked in racing. His name is Trent Cherry and he is now a pit crew coach at Penske Racing. Meanwhile, Knost saw an opportunity and seized it.
In 2008, Knost got his resume into the hands of Matt Borland, the director of competition at then-Haas-CNC Racing (now Stewart-Haas Racing). Borland, an engineer himself, saw something in Knost’s background and gave him an opportunity.
Knost spent 2008 writing his dissertation on airplanes and in hotel rooms while traveling the NASCAR circuit and moving full speed ahead on his racing career.
He has been on a rapid path of ascension since joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2008.
Knost ran the team’s seven-post shaker rig and assisted with at-track computer support from 2008 until the end of 2011.
In 2012, he worked as the race engineer for SHR’s No. 10 car with driver Danica Patrick for eight races during its 10-race limited schedule. He moved to the No. 39 team with driver Ryan Newman as the race engineer under crew chief Borland in 2012 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the final four races of the season.
Last season, Knost continued to work as the race engineer for Newman and the No. 39 team. The team scored an impressive win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and earned a spot in the 13-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Knost was promoted at the end of the 2013 season from race engineer to crew chief for driver Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Haas Automation team.
Although he admits he doesn’t have a “traditional” racing background, he is confident in his abilities to call the shots from atop the pit box during the race and as a manager and leader of his team in the shop.
DANIEL KNOST, Crew Chief of the No. 41 HAAS Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What made you pursue a career in racing?
“I don’t want to say racing was an unintentional path, but it wasn’t exactly my life goal, either. It was more that I missed being part of a team and competing, and a career in racing allowed me to do that. I realized that I have this education that may lend itself to a career like that, but I don’t really know anything about cars – I know about jet engines. So, that’s when I put my mind to wanting to do the racing thing. So as I was working on my Ph.D., I tried to tailor my skill set around things that I thought would apply to a racecar as well as a jet engine. Even though I was working on jet engines, I also had in the back of my mind how each one of these steps in my academic career applied to the racecar.”
What was your goal as you joined Stewart-Haas Racing?
“I think anybody’s long-term goal if they want to be the best is to ascend through the ranks. When I was a kid, would I have loved to have been a professional athlete? Yes. But I wasn’t fast enough, strong enough, whatever you want, to be a professional athlete. I would say I spent a lot of time mentally having coaching clinics in my head. I always thought that it would be really great to be a coach. In some respects, being a crew chief is analogous to being a coach. You’ve got to get the guys to do the things that you want, the way that you want. You’ve got to institute a program. You’ve got to make decisions. I would say that the crew chief role maybe kind of fits what my long-term life goals were. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily walked in the door saying, ‘I’m going to be a crew chief,’ but hopefully, you do a good job and people will see that and recognize that and give you opportunities. I think that’s what happened here. People saw things in me and wanted to give me an opportunity to move forward and be a leader within the program. I appreciate that opportunity. I welcome that opportunity and hopefully we will be successful at it.”
How has your experience working with Kurt Busch been up to this point?
“I didn’t have any predetermined expectations going in, but Kurt has been a big part of the team. He wants to be very involved in every aspect of the way that we do business, and I think that’s a good thing. It keeps him involved and invested so that he understands the thought process. That way, if something comes up, it’s not coming out of left field. His feedback has really impressed me. He feels a lot out of the car. You really don’t need to tell him what is faster or slower, he can just tell. At the same time, he is very competitive and that shows up. He really wants to do well and be the best and win. I’m the same way – I want to win, too. I think we understand each other in that respect.”
What are you expecting at Martinsville this weekend?
“Martinsville is a track where a driver can make a big difference and I think Kurt has a lot of talent and the right attitude to go in there and do well. Historically, SHR has had some good runs there and the Hendrick guys have had good runs there, so we should have a wealth of information to draw from. We are looking forward to a good weekend.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine