Wolfe moved seamlessly from his role as a driver to that of a crew chief and showcased just how well suited he was to the job in 2010. That season, he led Keselowski to six wins, five poles, 26 top-five finishes and the Nationwide Series title. It was the first NASCAR championship at any level for team owner Roger Penske. He then topped that in the 2012, leading Keselowski to the Sprint Cup title — a first for all three of the major players.
Behind the scenes
While it will be Brad Keselowski (left) and Jimmie Johnson gaining attention with their championship finish this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, crew chiefs Paul Wolfe (right) and Chad Knaus will be feeling the heat as well. Just as with their drivers, there's a vast difference in the background and approach each of these men bring to the effort. In the end, though, it's clear that both of them have found a winning program. So just how different are these two championship contenders?
Knaus: 2012 season
Knaus has paced the field late in the season, but now enters the finale needing to make up some ground. He's a master at leading his team to victory under pressure. This season, he has five wins. He has 24 top-10 finishes, 18 of them top fives, and has orchestrated an average starting position of 10.6 and an average finish of 10.5. Now the question is: Will those be the numbers of a six-time champ?
Wolfe: 2012 season
Wolfe (left) certainly has gained the attention of the Sprint Cup garage this year. He's changed the game when it comes to fuel-mileage racing and shown the ability to keep his cool under pressure. He led Keselowski to five wins this season — and the 2012 title. He and Keselowski earned 23 top-10 finishes, 13 of them top fives.
Knaus: Top season
There are many ways to judge a top season for a crew chief, be it most wins in the year, taking the title or improving a team. But for Knaus, the red-letter year should be 2010. That season, he not only took Johnson to another title, but he reached new heights in terms of crew chiefs. Knaus became the first in history to win five conseutive titles and moved to second among all crew chiefs, trailing just Hall of Famer Dale Inman in total titles all time.
It should be pretty easy to pick a top season when one only has two to choose from, but both of Wolfe's years in Cup have been excellent. Clearly this is his top year as he took the championship, but last season Wolfe led Keselowski to three victories and fifth in the standings. Not too shabby for a debut year.
Knaus: 13 years in Cup
Knaus has long been a fixture in the garage. He was a tire changer on Jeff Gordon's original pit crew, then made his foray into a role as a crew chief in 2000 with Melling Racing. He didn't stray from the Hendrick fold for long though, returning in 2002 to work as the crew chief for rookie driver Johnson. Since then, they've been rewriting the history books and winning on a regular basis.
Wolfe debuted in the NASCAR ranks in the 2003 Nationwide Series as a part-time driver. He would compete at that level for parts of the next three seasons, then concentrate his expertise on being a crew chief. He worked in the Nationwide Series with Jason Leffler in 2008 and Mike Bliss in 2009 before beginning his career with Keselowski. He joined Keselowski on the Cup side in 2011 — and the success immediately began.
Knaus: 58 wins
Knaus has enjoyed a long career, but has found true success in his pairing with Johnson. He has helmed 58 of the driver's Sprint Cup wins over the years, leading the way among modern-day crew chiefs in the elite ranks.
Wolfe (left) began his winning ways with Keselowski in the Nationwide Series, where they won six races together in 2010. Overall, they've continued to find new levels of glory together. Wolfe has led Keselowski to 14 of his career wins.
Knaus: Five NASCAR titles
Knaus has been with Johnson from the start of his full-time NASCAR career, and the two have enjoyed unprecedented success together. Focused and driven, Knaus earned five consecutive Cup titles, a record for a crew chief.