Column By: LEE SPENCER / NASCAR – SPARTA, KY – The quest for eight continues.
Crew chief Chad Knaus extended his contract with Hendrick Motorsports through 2020. The length of the agreement matches that of Jimmie Johnson, 42.
Knaus, 46, partnered with Johnson at the start of the 2002 NASCAR season. Over the last 13 seasons, the pair has amassed seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships, 81 wins and 37 pole positions.
What has been the key to the No. 48 team’s success?
“It probably has a lot to do with Jimmie’s patience,” Knaus said prior to Saturday’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “He is a very tolerant individual. I think that has a lot to do with it, but I think Jimmie and I, we have gotten to the point where we really understand one another. There is not a big question on the effort or the amount of effort that is going in from one side nor the other.
“We deeply care for one another obviously, families, daughters, and I have a son coming, so we have grown a lot together through life and I think that has a lot to do with it.”
The pair’s tight-knit relationship has helped them weather the tough times – including the team’s current 41-race winless streak that dates back to Dover last June. It’s the longest drought for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team since its inception 17 years ago.
“Obviously, I’m a very competitive person and if we go three weeks without winning I’m frustrated,” Knaus said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and competing. I love to compete. The winless streak right now, yeah although it’s not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination it is where we are. It’s our reality right now and we’ve got to fight through it.”
Kentucky Speedway solidified Bubba’s status with RPM
Last season Darrell “Bubba” Wallace was at a crossroads in his racing career.
His tenure was ending with Roush Fenway Racing. The 12-race Xfinity deal in the No. 6 Ford had run its course. Wallace was one step away from the unemployment line when Richard Petty Motorsports called.
Aric Almirola was sidelined with a broken leg following a vicious wreck at Kansas Speedway. That left a vacancy in the No. 43 RPM Ford – and a four-race audition for Wallace. With each start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup car Wallace improved his position.
But it was his 11th-place result in marginal equipment at Kentucky Speedway that really turned heads.
“After finishing 11th here, just my fourth start in, I felt very confident in what I was able to do,” Wallace said. “I didn’t feel like I left any stone unturned there. I was kind of able to lay down that night and though I was frustrated that I wasn’t racing any more, I knew I had done everything I could with the opportunity.”
When Stewart-Haas Racing lured Almirola away last season, the seat opened full-time in the iconic No. 43 Petty car. Given his earlier success, Wallace, 24, was the logical choice.
He kicked off the season in the Daytona 500 with a career-best second-place finish behind Austin Dillon – but stole the headlines and the hearts of fans.
This weekend, Wallace returns to the track where he made his mark with RPM.
“The speed that we’re showing today, it goes back to the guys at the shop,” Wallace said. “They built a brand new car for Kentucky. They hit it right on the spot, first lap on the track. So I’m pretty excited about our opportunity this weekend.”
Bell returns to the “Big E” for his broadcasting debut
Christopher Bell didn’t have to win the Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway to prove he’s a bona fide racer.
He keeps a list of his race starts and wins on his phone. And since Bell, 23, became “a professional race car driver in 2013” that number has reached the 450-mark.
“I tally every race I’ve ever ran and what position I’ve finished,” Bell said.
Bell’s next challenge will come at his favorite race track – Eldora Speedway – where he’ll trade in his helmet for a microphone as part of the FOX Sports broadcast team for the Eldora Dirt Derby.
“Whenever we race on line on iRacing or streamed races over the internet and you have 10 of your buddies watching, you pretend to broadcast, but this will be the first time I’m actually, legitimately, doing it,” Bell said.
“I was super excited months ago when they asked me to do it. But now the date is creeping up on me and my stomach is getting closer and closer to my throat. So I’m getting pretty nervous about it.”