Chad Knaus slung the champagne bottle over his shoulder the way a businessman would carry his jacket after a long day of work. The casual approach seemed fitting for Jimmie Johnson's crew chief. Celebrating in Victory Lane really has become just another day in the office for every member of the No.48 team.
Johnson's win Sunday in Dover, Del., made Hendrick Motorsports 2-for-2 in Chase for the Championship races. Mark Martin kicked off the 10-race run with a win and helped make Hendrick 1-2 in points.
Lurking behind them in eighth place is teammate Jeff Gordon, a two-time winner of this week's race at Kansas Speedway.
Johnson and Gordon have seven championships, and Martin, 50, is in prime position to shed the "best driver to never win it all" label that has been attached to him for years. Holding the points lead, this might be his year.
Nine other drivers want to make the Hendrick boys work for a championship. But it could be too late to end team owner Rick Hendrick's three-year run of championships.
Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne, 10th through 12th in the Chase standings, need top-five runs and an immediate string of bad luck for the drivers up front to have any realistic shot at contention.
"Everybody is going to have a 15th-or-worse-place finish somewhere along the way," Gordon said. "It could possibly be worse than that when you get to Talladega and Martinsville, those places where the unknown is there."
Johnson finished 15th in two Chase races last season en route to this record-tying third straight championship. He won three times, including Kansas, and finished in the top 10 the other five times. Do that again, and it might be impossible for any driver to catch Johnson. He's off to a fast start in this year's Chase, finishing fourth and first.
"If you get off to a quick start, it makes your life a little easier," Johnson said. "It doesn't change the fact that you could have a problem later on in the Chase. It's 10 races and they all the play the same."
Johnson also has a record 15 Chase victories since the format's inception in 2004.
"I think as the season progresses, we get smarter," Knaus said. "Not that everybody else doesn't. But really as a group, we work together and try to get our drivers on the same page, try to get our crew chiefs and teams on the same page."
A report emerged Friday that NASCAR had warned the crews of Johnson and Martin, after their 1-2 finish at Dover, that their cars nearly didn't pass inspection. But the cars were legal and, as Knaus said, "If we were cheating, I wouldn't be standing here today, I'd be back in Charlotte."
So the topic returns to the all-for-one approach in which all four teams, including that of non-Chase driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., share information. That has surprised Martin who, after being on the brink of retiring a handful of times this decade, has enjoyed a rebirth with a series-high five wins and a 10-point lead over Johnson.
"We race each other hard on the racetrack, but off the racetrack, we all work for the same goal," Martin said.