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“Obviously, you can be the best driver in the world, and if you don’t have a good crew chief and a good crew, you’re not going to get it done,” Knaus said. “Paul does a really good job.”

Keselowski, whose rise in the sport has been impressive _ he has eight top-fives this season, just three fewer than Johnson, who tops the Cup standings _ knows he has something special.

“Racing is such a team sport that a crew chief plays the role almost more of a head coach and the driver more like a starting quarterback,” Keselowski said. “I’m nothing without him calling the right plays, in a sense. He’s the leader of the team who sets the direction … for everything we do. His position is of extreme value and perhaps one of the most underrated in all of sports as it pertains to its difficulty.

“Certainly, Paul is a huge, huge component to my success. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves.”

Knaus and Johnson have developed a chemistry that is rare in the sport. The Penske tandem doesn’t seem far behind.

“The chemistry that we have as racers is something I’m very proud of, and it doesn’t come along every day,” Keselowski said. “It’s like having a best friend. You don’t just find a new best friend every day.

“I’m very lucky. I’ve been through a few, and Paul was the first one that I really felt connected to. I respected the majority of the crew chiefs I’ve had. It wasn’t a respect issue. It was more of a, `Could you carry a conversation with him? Could you be thinking the same thing without saying it?’ Those type of things.”

Intent on regaining whatever he might have lost last season, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy sits atop the points with four races remaining before the Chase begins at Chicagoland in mid-September. Keselowski is fifth after his stirring second-place finish to Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, and brimming with confidence as the series heads to his home state of Michigan.

“I think we have a lot of potential,” Keselowski said. “There are some things we have to work on. The majority of the tracks in the Chase are mile-and-a-half-style tracks, intermediate tracks, and the 48 has shown to be heads and tails above everybody else as it pertains to speed on those tracks. That’s something that we have to play a little bit of catch-up because speed is the foundation of the sport and the rest is by execution, strategy.”