Jimmie Johnson is good at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Like, really good. So it’s a little odd that the driver with the best driver rating, who has finished in the top-10 in eight of the 10 races he has run at Chicagoland, has never visited victory lane there. He has come close – a lot. He finished second or third in four of those races at the 1.5-mile oval. Compounding the frustration is the fact that the track is considered crew chief Chad Knaus’ home track.
Knaus grew up in Rockford, Ill., just northwest of Chicago. His dad John was a racer and Knaus followed his father around the local Midwest tracks as a young boy. By the time he was 14, the younger Knaus foreshadowed his future success in NASCAR when became crew chief for his father. That year, the elder Knaus captured the 1986 Rockford Speedway championship in Late Models with his son calling the shots from the pits.
Winning in the Chicago area obviously isn’t an issue for the crew chief of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevy, and neither is it for his five-time champion driver. Johnson’s first and only victory in the Nationwide Series came at the track in 2001 while running for Herzog Motorsports. Knaus and Johnson will do what they can to change their luck in the sport’s premiere series where they have only finished two races outside the top-10 (July 2007 and 2010).
Johnson also would like to cross Chicagoland off the list of tracks on which he has never won, which includes Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
Sunday’s first race of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship looms large as the quest for the No. 48 team’s record sixth title begins. The team will be chasing that elusive win at Chicagoland, a place where Knaus & Company would like nothing more than to own just a small piece of property adjacent to the track – the little area known as victory lane.