December 01, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) Chad Knaus had been a champion for six days, but the NASCAR title was so improbable, so unlikely, it still hadn't sunk in for Jimmie Johnson's crew chief.

The trigger was a traffic jam on a North Carolina interstate two days after Thanksgiving.

''I was finally by myself,'' Knaus said Thursday. ''I then ran through the emotions of what happened and that's when I got the goosebumps.''

Knaus received the Champion Crew Chief Award on Thursday, a day before Johnson will be honored for capturing their seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup title together.

Also on Thursday, the National Motorsports Press Association awarded its prestigious Myers Brothers Award to the late philanthropist Betty Jane France for her NASCAR contributions. Car owner Jack Roush received the Buddy Shuman Award for his contribution to the sport.

Knaus has plenty of experience giving speeches during NASCAR's championship week celebration. But he believes this title for the No. 48 Chevrolet team is the most surprising.

''Some we had to just finish in the top 12, top 15. One time Denny (Hamlin) came in with the points lead on us and we had to beat him and we pulled that off,'' Knaus said. ''Honestly, toward the end of that race with 20 to go, not that we gave up, but it was, `Well, it's just not going to happen unless something weird shows up.' And, hell, something weird showed up.''

In the season finale at Homestead, Carl Edwards' decision to block Joey Logano caused a wreck that wiped out both contenders. Johnson responded with what Knaus called ''the restart of his life'' and suddenly Johnson had tied Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most career series titles.

''One reason why I think this team is so successful is we're not afraid to make changes,'' Knaus said. ''We're not afraid to try something. Even when we do have success, we don't stagnate and just stay in one area and say, `This is the way we have to do it.' We change people around, we move people. We change our approach to how we race and our cars.

''So it's been a challenge over the course of 15 years with the 48 car, but it's been extremely rewarding as well.''

Thursday's luncheon also recognized France, who was the widow of former NASCAR chief Bill France Jr. and mother of current Chairman Brian France. She started the NASCAR Foundation in 2006, which has raised more than $25 million for children's causes around the country.

Betty Jane France, who died in August, received the award named after NASCAR pioneers Billy and Bobby Myers.

Roush received the award named after racing pioneer Buddy Shuman for his role in the growth of the sport.

''I generally don't like surprises, but this means a great deal to me,'' said Roush, who has over 300 wins in NASCAR's top three series.

The 45-year-old Knaus' seven titles are one shy of Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman's record. It was one of the things Knaus tried to process as he stuck in traffic last week on I-77.

''I don't even feel like I deserve to be in the same sentence as that man,'' Knaus said of Petty's longtime crew chief. He's an icon of our sport. I think he's an amazing man. I've known him for, gosh, 26 years, I'd say. I have a lot of respect for him. So if I could tie him at some point in time, it would be pretty awesome.''

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