Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Crew chief Chad Knaus may not have discovered the fountain of youth in “trading” 43-year-old Jimmie Johnson for a driver less than half his age, but there was definitely a bounce in Knaus’ stride as he hastened to congratulate his new charge, 21-year-old William Byron, on his Daytona 500 pole-winning run.
Teamed together for the first time, Byron and Knaus led a 1-2-3-4 performance by Hendrick Motorsports in Sunday’s qualifying session for the Feb. 17 Great American Race.
That success comes after a season that was a struggle for all of the Hendrick teams, save for three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner Chase Elliott. But Hendrick power was unquestionably dominant in Sunday’s time trials.
“Yeah, our engine shop is pretty amazing,” Knaus acknowledged. “I think you can see that just from the accomplishments they’ve had over the course of the last… well, the course of its existence is pretty spectacular.
“And to have all of those cars on the first four qualifying positions is pretty remarkable.”
But that doesn’t mean Knaus feels as if he has shed a substantial number of his 47 years.
“As far as feeling 21 again?” Knaus said with a laugh. “Man, I’m a long ways from that. A wise man told me once, he said, when I was young, I used to go to bed sore and wake up feeling fine. Now that I’m old, I go to bed feeling fine and I wake up sore, and there’s some reality to that. “But it has put some wind in the sails, for sure. To be around a young group of guys again, seeing that enthusiasm, the big eyes, the open eyes, is a lot of fun, and it’s going to be a great time.”
RYAN BLANEY: NO WORRIES AFTER 17TH-PLACE QUALIFYING EFFORT
Sure, Ryan Blaney would have preferred to have qualified better than 17th in Sunday’s knockout time trials for the Daytona 500, but he’ll have plenty of time to redeem himself in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duel and the race that follows on Sunday.
“We haven’t drafted with our 500 car yet, but I stress out the least about qualifying here, because you have a chance in the Duels to get better,” Blaney said Sunday between qualifying and the Advance Auto Parts Clash. “I think we qualified around there last year (15th), and we went out and won our Duel and were really good in the 500.”
What’s most important to Blaney is fine-tuning his No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang to work well in the draft.
“I mainly look for how my car drives—if it’s going to drive well and make aggressive moves,” Blaney said. “Sometimes it seems the cars that qualify the best don’t handle great in the 500, so I think that was our strong point last year.
“We could make really aggressive moves, and our car did have decent speed, so we have chances to get up there, but we’ll see.”
KURT BUSCH WAS HOPING TO WIN CLASH ON A TECHNICALITY
When contact between the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard triggered the 17-car wreck that gave Johnson the victory in Sunday’s Advance Auto parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson had to dip below the yellow line to avoid Menard’s spinning car.
Race runner-up Kurt Busch, driving the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the first time, was hoping against hope Johnson’s action would be construed as “passing below the yellow line” and result in a demotion, giving Busch the win, but that was just wishful thinking.
After all, the scramble occurred after the accident had started, and cars throughout the field began taking evasive action.
“Yeah, I didn’t quite see him until I saw the first replay after the race, and it clearly shows he’s below the double yellow,” Busch said. “Can the rule be interpreted he went to go pass below the double yellow? Yes. Can it be interpreted that Menard forced him below the double yellow? Yes.
“Right now (team owner Chip Ganassi) is over there at the hauler just checking in, just seeing what the call can be, and again, it’s like any sport right now—we see it in the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, it’s all an umpire or referee call, and they can decide which way it needs to go.
“But, hey, we almost won our first race together, and we’ll take second.”