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Knaus, Gustafson Sign Extensions With HMS

[1]Hendrick Motorsports has announced that the team has signed crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson to multi-year contract extensions. Details of the new contracts have not yet been made public.

This announcement ensures that Knaus will remain paired with four-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson for the next several years. Johnson signed a five-year extension [2] with  HMS at the end of last year, and it is likely that Knaus’ deal would keep him at HMS for the same amount of time. This, of course, is purely speculation.

Gustafson’s role, however, is much less certain. He is currently crew chief for the No. 5 team and driver Mark Martin. With the addition of Kasey Kahne to HMS [3] in 2012, Martin will step out of the No. 5.

The issue is that Kahne’s contract with Richard Petty Motorsports expires this year, and all indications are that he would move to Stewart Haas Racing, an HMS affiliated team, for one season before moving to HMS in 2012.

Many believe that Gustafson will become Kahne’s crew chief when he joins the organization. And all indications point to that. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not the case.

Before Tony Eury Jr was removed [4] from his position as Dale Earnhardt Jr’s crew chief last season, there were reports that Rick Hendrick considered swapping crew chiefs [5] Eury Jr and Gustafson. Those reports were later denied [6]. But, if true, that indicates that Hendrick thought that Gustafson would be a good fit for Earnhardt Jr — at least good enough to consider the move.

Gustafson and Martin turned their season around and won some races, and contended for a championship. That made it harder for Hendrick to justify the switch. Why break up a winning team that is performing?

Perhaps, with the addition of Kahne, Hendrick will be given the opportunity to consider moving Gustafson to the No. 88 team and Earnhardt Jr. In order for that to happen, I think Hendrick would make a play for Kenny Francis, Kahne’s crew chief during his entire Sprint Cup career.

I haven’t been given any reason to believe that Francis and Kahne have no desire to work together anymore. And, it may be more appealing for Hendrick to bring Francis on board so he doesn’t affect the chemistry. He’s also done it before with Earnhardt Jr and Eury Jr.

That would also mean that Lance McGrew would return to his previous role in the research and development department. I don’t think — of course I don’t have insider knowledge — that McGrew would mind stepping out of the crew chief role. He seemed to be willing to accept the role as Earnhardt Jr’s crew chief more because Hendrick asked rather than because of a genuine interest.

So I can’t imagine that McGrew would have a problem with stepping down. Then again, I don’t really know that for sure.

Another, less likely scenario is Tony Eury Jr becoming Kahne’s crew chief. I highly doubt this is likely, but about a month ago we never would have believed Kahne would be driving a HMS Chevy. So, you just never know.