KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the second time in 2014, Daniel Knost, rookie crew chief for Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Haas Automation “America’s Machine Tool” Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is making his first return trip to a racetrack as a crew chief.
When Knost drove into Daytona International Speedway for the season-opening Daytona 500, he knew he was going to be the one calling the shots from atop the pit box for Busch and the newly assembled No. 41 Haas Automation team. Since the No. 41 team was new to SHR, it was up to Knost and crew to ensure the team raced its way into the season-opening event because it did not have owner points from the previous season.
As the series heads to the 18th race of the season, Knost has experienced the highs and lows of a Sprint Cup campaign, even if it is only reaching its halfway point this weekend.
The No. 41 team had mixed results at Daytona during Speedweeks. First, it was involved in a seven-car pileup on lap 35 of the Sprint Unlimited. Then, it finished third in the second Budweiser Duel at Daytona. Finally, it finished 21st in the Daytona 500 after suffering damage during a pit-road collision with Trevor Bayne.
Since the team left Speedweeks at Daytona, it has experienced the high of winning when it claimed victory in the 500-lap event at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. It added third-place finishes at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The team also suffered through a period during which it struggled to complete races – at one point registering four DNFs (did not finish) in a six-race stretch from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Since leaving Charlotte after the Coca-Cola 600, Knost, Busch and the rest of the No. 41 team has found its footing again and is looking to add to its current streak of four consecutive top-15 finishes and five top-20s in a row. Busch would most love to score his second win of the season in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.
Knost knows the No. 41 team’s win at Martinsville in March virtually guarantees a spot in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Adding a second win would cement the team’s place in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson is the only driver with three wins, while SHR teammate Kevin Harvick, Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards each have two wins this season. Busch is one of four single-race winners as the series heads to race 18 of 36.
DANIEL KNOST, Chew Chief of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The last time you visited Daytona, it was your first race as a crew chief. How do you feel going to Daytona for the second time?
“I would say I’m more comfortable. At this point, I have more of an expectation for the way that practices lay out and how the week lays out. I’m more comfortable with making decisions. As far as Daytona goes, there is a lot that’s out of your control. I guess I knew that going in, but now I really know that. From that perspective, I guess I would say that I just have more of an idea in terms of expectations.”
What have you learned from the first 17 races as a Sprint Cup crew chief?
“I’ve definitely learned that people respond to things differently. Whether it’s communication, circumstances or results, everyone responds to those things differently. One of the key things to get right as a team leader is to figure out how to work with all of these different people and try to find a way to get the best out of each one of them when they don’t react the same to certain things. That’s been a big learning curve. Technically, there are all sorts of little details that, each time you come out of a test, practice or race, you look back at the things you did well and the things you missed. You hope you don’t miss those things multiple times. I feel like there have been plenty of things I would do differently if given another opportunity. I think there are some things I’ve done well and would do again if given the opportunity but, in general, you just see a lot of the little details someone with more experience might take for granted. Those are the things that become second nature with experience but, when you haven’t done it before, you have to actively think about it.”
What did you learn during qualifying at Talladega that you could use at Daytona?
“Your qualifying speed depends on the pack you’re running in. The single-lap Daytona 500 qualifying, you have some amount of control because you can do things to the car to help the aerodynamics. There is still a lot involved with the engine side but, for us, we don’t have as much influence in that because we buy our engines from Hendrick (Motorsports). With the group qualifying, it’s really more about drafting technique and building momentum from the group, so really it’s very different.”
What are your goals for the second half of the season?
“Definitely, our first goal is to be more consistent. Consistency is really important over the long haul in racing. I think we need to continue to improve our pure speed. I think we’ve made significant gains in that area, but there is still more room to improve. We certainly want to win a few more races. We want to develop consistency and develop a very pragmatic approach by the time we hit the Chase so we aren’t doing as much guesswork.”
What will it take to gain additional consistency or take that next step forward?
“Honestly, I think in two of our last three races where we scored a top-15 finish, we had the potential to be significantly better than that so, to me, the execution has got to be better. You have to continue to evolve in this sport and anyone who stays stagnant is going to continue to fall behind. What was a good car last year is not a good car this year. What was a good car at the beginning of this year is not as good of a car now. What is a race-winning car at this point won’t be by the end of the year, so you need to continue to evolve as far as cars continue to get better.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine