Daniel Knost, crew chief for the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, will call just his sixth race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend as the team heads to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Sunday’s STP 500.
Knost scored his first top-five as a Sprint Cup crew chief last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., with a third-place finish, but he knows he has to continue learning each week in his new position. Thankfully, learning is nothing new to the 35-year-old who has a Ph.D. in engineering. Knost knows that his extensive education will serve him well and accelerate his learning curve.
Knost graduated in 2001 from North Carolina State University in Raleigh with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, but he wasn’t satisfied and felt he needed to continue his education to be proficient in any career. Knost decided to continue his pursuit of higher education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, where he earned a masters of science degree in 2003 and a doctorate in the same field in 2008.
When Knost wasn’t studying mechanical engineering, he was reading about his favorite sports teams. He grew up playing a variety of team sports, including football, baseball, basketball and tennis, and realized he missed competitive sports. Knost missed the camaraderie of a team and longed for the thrill of competition.
It was then that Knost saw an opportunity to use his engineering skill and apply it to a career in a competitive sport – NASCAR.
Knost grew up in south Charlotte, approximately 30 minutes from a hotbed of NASCAR’s premier race teams in Mooresville, N.C., but he really didn’t have any connection to the sport. His family had never been involved in racing, and he didn’t have access to it while he was growing up other than attending a few races as a fan.
That was until one of his closest friends growing up – and his doubles partner in tennis – worked in racing. His name is Trent Cherry and he is now a pit crew coach at Penske Racing. Meanwhile, Knost saw an opportunity and seized it.
In 2008, Knost got his resume into the hands of Matt Borland, the director of competition at then-Haas-CNC Racing (now Stewart-Haas Racing). Borland, an engineer himself, saw something in Knost’s background and gave him an opportunity.
Knost spent 2008 writing his dissertation on airplanes and in hotel rooms while traveling the NASCAR circuit and moving full speed ahead on his racing career.
He has been on a rapid path of ascension since joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2008.
Knost ran the team’s seven-post shaker rig and assisted with at-track computer support from 2008 until the end of 2011.
In 2012, he worked as the race engineer for SHR’s No. 10 car with driver Danica Patrick for eight races during its 10-race limited schedule. He moved to the No. 39 team with driver Ryan Newman as the race engineer under crew chief Borland in 2012 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the final four races of the season.
Last season, Knost continued to work as the race engineer for Newman and the No. 39 team. The team scored an impressive win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and earned a spot in the 13-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Knost was promoted at the end of the 2013 season from race engineer to crew chief for driver Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Haas Automation team.
Although he admits he doesn’t have a “traditional” racing background, he is confident in his abilities to call the shots from atop the pit box during the race and as a manager and leader of his team in the shop.