Daniel Knost has a doctorate in mechanical engineering. He could have a doctorate in diplomacy after 2014 if everything goes right.
The 35-year-old engineer has a new responsibility this season as crew chief for Kurt Busch. Yeah, that Busch, the one who is known as a great driver with incredible racing talent and impeccable car knowledge but who can get a little — or a lot — excited on the radio during a race.
Knost didn’t shy away from the job offer, his first crew chief job in what will be his seventh year at Stewart-Haas Racing after he joined Haas CNC Racing in 2008. Last year, he was the race engineer for Ryan Newman and the crew that will continue in their roles for Busch, who joined the team after driving for Furniture Row Racing last year.
Two of the common topics when Knost talks about his driver are dealing with Busch's fiery demeanor while also enjoying the fruits of driving talent.
“I’m probably not the thickest-skinned person in the world,” Knost said in a phone interview. “Most people, if they care about what they do, if they screw up, they know it.
“But as far as reacting to it, to me, externally, I try to be pretty even. I would say internally, I’m not all that different than what Kurt is, honestly. I appreciate (that) that reaction comes from just being competitive and wanting to be the best. I understand where that’s coming from, and I view my job when that comes up to try to get us focused on what our problem is and how we’re going to fix it.”
Knost ran SHR's seven-post shaker rig and assisted with at-track simulation support from 2008 through 2011 and in that time wasn’t necessarily thinking he had to be a crew chief to be happy. He was the race engineer for Danica Patrick's limited Cup run in 2012 and then moved to Newman's No. 39 team in 2013. When offered the Busch crew chief job near the end of last year, he talked it over with his wife and now has become a crew chief for a championship contender.
“It was something that we had discussed, that we had discussed as part of the long-range plan,” Knost said. “It wasn’t something that I was actively pursuing. I was still getting comfortable in the race-engineer role because I was mostly shop-based.
“A few of the people here, I guess, got together and they thought maybe it would be a good time to give me a new challenge, so they brought it to me. … So here we are.”
Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, has 24 career victories. Last year, he led Furniture Row to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the first time a single-car team made the Chase in its 10-year history.
“Anytime that you’re faced with a big challenge, you sit there and wonder, ‘Can I do this?’” Knost said. “At the same time, there’s a lot of excitement about being given the chance, certainly with the caliber of driver that Kurt is.
“There are a lot of people around here that I know and I trust. For them to believe in me gives me some confidence.”
Knost already has had three tests with Busch, the NASCAR test at Charlotte last December, the Daytona test earlier this month, and then another at Nashville Superspeedway. As expected, Knost welcomes Busch’s input and his extensive setup knowledge. Knost felt the team was a little bit behind the curve with crew members in new roles at Charlotte but he says with each test, things get smoothing.
“The guys working together is getting better and better and better — the communication is improving and Kurt and I’s dialogue is improving,” Knost said. “It’s nice to get his feedback and kind of chart a new direction with what we’re doing with his feel in the car and the changes in the rules.”
Busch’s feedback reminds Knost of three-time champion Tony Stewart, which should help him decide what changes to make on the car. And Busch has spent time at the shop, including driving the car for pit-crew practice earlier this week.
“It’s great for a driver to want to be involved,” Knost said. “The driver has got to be the light to shine the path for you. Their fidelity and feeling what the car is doing is higher than any of the engineering tools that we’ve got.
“We’ve put together what we think are going to be good packages for balance or speed, but these guys have got to feel what’s happening and react to it. … The more that a guy is in tune with what you’re trying to accomplish, the more it narrows his feedback down and puts you on that path faster.
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