Knost on a Short-Track Mission
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Daniel Knost, rookie crew chief for 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Haas Automation team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is still learning each week, but he has reason to be optimistic heading into Saturday night’s Richmond 400 at the .75-mile Richmond (Va.) International Raceway oval.
Knost, only eight races into his rookie campaign as a Sprint Cup crew chief, already has one Sprint Cup win on a Virginia short track. He helped Busch end an 83-race Sprint Cup winless streak at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March when he secured his first and only win as the team leader. He also has another reason to be optimistic heading into this weekend.
Richmond is one of two racetracks where Kurt Busch has won in both Sprint Cup and the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Busch first won at Richmond in the Sprint Cup Series in September 2005, when he led 185 laps of the 400-lap race. He won again in April 2012, this time driving for his brother’s Nationwide Series team Kyle Busch Motorsports, when he led 68 of 250 laps.
Last September, Busch was in position to score his second Sprint Cup win at Richmond when he led five times for 73 laps and finished 0.668 of a second behind race winner Carl Edwards.
That means Knost is leading a team capable of winning, with a driver who has won at the Richmond racetrack in two different NASCAR touring series and came within a fraction of a second of scoring his second Sprint Cup win last fall. Knost also views Richmond as unfinished business.
In 2013, Knost was the lead race engineer for the No. 39 team for SHR, a team he feels had a win taken from it at Richmond last September.
The No. 39 team was in position to score a much-needed win to secure its spot in the 12-team Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. A win would have given it two wins on the season and secured the final wild card spot in the Chase. On lap 394, with only six laps remaining and a comfortable lead, a car spun on the front stretch to bring out a caution and bunch up the field. The No. 39 came to pit road and returned to the race in third place, unable to recover the lost positions in the closing laps. The No. 39 team finished the regular season tied in points and wins with the No. 56 car, but the No. 56 won the tie-breaker by securing more second-place finishes.
Knost and the No. 39 crew found it tough to watch the Chase contenders celebrating on the Richmond front stretch stage as they walked out of the racetrack and headed for home.
Knost knows the No. 41 team’s win in March at Martinsville virtually guarantees the team a spot in the 2014 Chase, but adding a second win would cement its place in the 10-race playoff. SHR teammate Kevin Harvick is the first driver to score multiple wins on the season, and Busch is one of six single-race winners as the series heads to race nine of 36.
In 26 career starts at Richmond, Busch has one win, five top-five finishes and nine top-10s with an average finish of 17th. He also has led 457 laps at Richmond, most recently when he led 73 laps last September.
DANIEL KNOST, Crew chief of the No. 41 HAAS Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What presents the biggest challenge for a crew chief at Richmond?
“Richmond is a short track and things happen fast and it’s hard to avoid them, sometimes. Plus, the last few years, the tires have fallen off a bunch throughout a run, so tire strategy becomes a big deal. It also seems like you are always balancing being tight in the center versus loose off at Richmond. Because the track is so small, you are asking the car to do a lot in such a small space and it’s a big challenge to get it to transition through those sections well.”
What do you have to do to manage your tires throughout a weekend?
“I think you really have to pay attention to what is happening around you. You have to not get overly aggressive before you should get aggressive. But I believe they are bringing a new tire, so we are really going to have to pay attention to what is going on around you and see how the tires are going to work throughout the weekend.”
You are a quarter of the way through your rookie season as a crew chief. What has presented the biggest challenge?
“I would say just how much goes into getting to the racetrack. You have a lot of people who are behind the scenes working way ahead of the schedule. There are a lot of things that need to happen. For us, we lost four cars in the span of three weeks. When you add the Martinsville winner, you start to realize how many parts and pieces are involved in putting cars together and getting them to the racetrack. So for me, I mean, you kind of know it’s happening, but once it’s on you to get the car there, you realize just how much work goes into getting to the track before you ever even turn a lap.”
Once you get to the racetrack, what is the biggest challenge?
“I would say people, in general, whether it’s crew guys, drivers, officials or whoever. You have to interact with a lot of different people. And, time management is a big challenge. You only get so many sets of tires and so much practice time, so it’s a matter of how you budget the time versus the tires to get the most information you can in a short period of time. Then it’s how do you connect all the dots and draw in between the lines if you’re to make good, sound decisions with limited information before the race.”
What do you remember about the Richmond race last fall?
“I was the engineer on the No. 39 team with Ryan Newman last year. We should have won the fall race at Richmond. I’m hoping we bring the same performance level as we did last fall to the race this weekend. We went into the race at Richmond last fall with the mindset that we thought we needed to win to ensure that we were going to make the Chase. We were very aggressive in our decision-making process before the race and within the race. Once we got into the position we needed to be in, we told Ryan, ‘Hey man, we think we can win.’ So he went out there and got it done and put us in front. We played all the right cards at all the right times, but then we felt like it got taken away from us. It was really disappointing to know we were on the verge of completing this big, season-long goal that we had and done all the right things, but then have it get away from us the way it did. It was very disappointing emotionally to walk out of the track that night and see the celebration going on and know that you should be a part of that and you’re not.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine