Since the beginning of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series it has been known that Steve Letarte, who has served as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. since 2011, had been announced as a member of NBC Sports’ broadcast team for the 2015 Sprint Cup season. He will join lead announcer Rick Allen and analyst Jeff Burton, who were previously announced by the network. Immediately, questions surfaced about who would take over one of the hardest jobs in NASCAR and control the #88 team for Hendrick Motorsports. The chatter around this ‘open’ position has subsided as Dale Jr. has reeled off two wins and put together his strongest season in more than a decade. I would like to stir the pot and propose a candidate for crew chief of the #88 car…Chad Knaus.
Now, for all of you Jimmie Johnson fans, I know this makes no sense and might even anger you but hear me out.
Chad Knaus is the best crew chief in the Cup garage and may be the greatest of all time so matching him with Dale Jr. would be a slam-dunk for Rick Hendrick. Knaus would challenge Junior and elevate him to a level that many thought he would reach when he signed with Hendrick Motorsports. Mr. Hendrick could deliver on his promise to make Dale a champion. Needless to say, the squabbling over Junior’s popularity and lack of production would be squashed…a win/win.
Now, for Johnson, this creates a unique opportunity. Johnson may be one of the greatest drivers of all time but the shadow, that is the thought that Knaus is responsible for most of his wins, hangs over the #48 driver. Pair Jimmie with any crew chief out there (Darian Grubb or Steve Addington, to name a couple) and let him prove he is the best with or without Knaus. My money is on Johnson still being a hall of fame talent and winning more races and championships. The question is, does Johnson want to take the risk to prove it?
As a Dale Jr. fan it is a pipe dream, I can admit that. But, one can see the benefits to both parties…one for success, the other for pride.