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Jimmie Johnson Daytona victory reflects Chad Knaus work ethic

George Diaz

COMMENTARY

5:16 PM EST, February 26, 2013

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DAYTONA BEACH — The conspiracy nuts went to work probably within seconds of learning that Jimmie Johnson trashed his front end during the infield victory celebration Sunday at Daytona.

Did Johnson damage his car on purpose to shake the post-race inspection team?

"I can only imagine," Johnson said, laughing, while sitting next to a man deemed the Darth Vadar of crew chiefs by a flock of jealous fans.

Chad Knaus is no angel. He's been busted three times for breaking NASCAR rules, including last season (though the suspension was eventually overturned).

Knaus wasn't around to see Johnson's first Daytona 500 victory in 2006 when Knaus was sent home by NASCAR after officials determined that there were illegal adjustments made to the No. 48's rear window.

You can see why there wasn't a lot of love outside the Hendrick Motorsports family for Knaus when Johnson celebrated his second Daytona title. But there's also an undeniably jilted-lover vibe to the way the NASCAR Nation feels about him.

Maybe they're just upset that he's successful and happy, all while staying a few steps ahead of the NASCAR posse much of the time.

Jealous much?

"I love my job," he said Monday morning. "I enjoy getting up in the morning. I've not never wanted to go to work. When my alarm goes off at 5:25, I wake up and get going. I may be slow. I may be a little sluggish from time to time, but I've never not wanted to go to work."

How much of a workaholic? Consider this:

"I'm telling you, I know we worked at least 35 days straight on the car that we raced in the Daytona 500," he said. "I know I put in personally one day of 38 hours straight. I actually sent Jimmie a text, saying I've seen 6:48 three times today and haven't been to bed yet."

Being there this time around for the Daytona victory was a moment to savor, but there was also a great sense of satisfaction in 2006 when he was home.

"That was probably one of my best moments as a crew chief," he said. "Unfortunately I wasn't here. A bad thing. But to see the team come down here and perform the way that it did and Jimmie carry the team the way that he did and be a true leader really showed how much that team had grown."

And so now Jimmie and Chad both move on to Phoenix, getting back to work on chasing another championship after a two-year drought. Johnson has five championships, third only to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who have seven.

These two are a formidable tag team, always have been.

Knaus will come up for air at some point to get married, though probably not during the season. He recently got engaged to Lisa Rockelmann, which is "a big deal and a lot of fun," he said. "We're excited about that. But you guys know me, I keep my private life private.

"There's a lot that goes into [a wedding]. It's like building another race car. But Lisa is working hard on that. "

Knaus will stick to what he knows best — building cars that win races and championships — oblivious to the jeers from the stands.

Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com

Tony Stewart, nice guy

Tony Stewart can be a prickly pear at times, but he's also a class act. The day after winning Saturday's Nationwide Series race marred by a horrific crash that injured spectators, Stewart went to nearby Halifax Health Medical Center to visit the six fans still there to be treated for injuries.

Stewart-Haas Racing spokesman Mike Arning told USA Today that Stewart interacted at length with five of them. Stewart was involved in an early incident that took him out of contention in the Daytona 500 but eventually completed the race. He stopped by the hospital before going home late Sunday.

Each patient received an autographed hat from sponsor Bass Pro Shops that Stewart personalized in their presence.

"We've always known since racing was started this was a dangerous sport, but we assume that risk, and it's hard when the fans get caught up in it," Stewart said after winning Saturday. "So as much as we want to celebrate now and as much as this is a big deal to all of us, I'm more worried about the drivers [injured] and the fans in the stands right now because I could see it all in the mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was at, either."

This random act of kindness may have gone unnoticed if word had not started leaking out on Twitter. That's Stewart style — gracious, generous and low key.

"Everyone goes, 'Oh, Tony Stewart, he's an [expletive]," said Travis Pastrana, a crossover X Games star now a rookie on the Nationwide circuit. "But when my friends in motocross have been hurt, he's flown them to hospitals and said, 'Hey, don't tell anybody.'

"He's so passionate about the sport. I have so much respect for him."

Logano and Hamlin spat

The Daytona 500 postscript included a cat fight on Twitter between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. Check it out:

Hamlin: "@keselowski sorry I couldn't get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time"

Logano: "@dennyhamlin I Remember when you were MY genius teammate."

Hamlin:"@joeylogano inside line was doomed every 3 wide move that was made. Nobody who went 3 middle went anywhere"

Meow.

Danica ratings boost

The Danica Effect looms large. The Daytona 500 earned a 9.9 rating and 22 share on Fox, the event's highest rating since 2008.and a spike of 24 percent from 2012 when rain postponed the race until Monday night.

NASCAR officials have to be particularly pleased that the infatuation with Danica Patrick spiked interest in the sport in some of the nation's bigger markets. Ratings were up 91 percent in Chicago, 64 percent in San Francisco, 60 percent in Los Angeles, 59 percent in Boston and 43 percent in New York.