Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus will split after after 17 seasons
If Jimmie Johnson is going to win a record eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he’s going to have to do it with a new crew chief.
Hendrick Motorsports revealed on Wednesday that Chad Knaus would leave the No. 48 team that he has shepherded since the 2002 season. Instead, he will move over to the No. 24 to work with second-year driver William Byron.
Meanwhile, JR Motorsports crew chief Kevin Meendering will take over crew chief duties on the No. 48 to work alongside Johnson. Meendering, 39, has spent the past three seasons as crew chief for the No. 1 Xfinity team with Elliott Sadler, winning three races and back-to-back championship race appearances.
Johnson and Knaus have gone winless for the first time in their careers through the first 30 races of the season, leading team owner Rick Hendrick to decide the time was right for a change.
"Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history," Hendrick said. "They defied the odds by performing at a championship level for longer than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. What they’ve accomplished together has been absolutely remarkable and will be celebrated for generations. This has been an incredible, storybook run."
Both Knaus and current No. 24 crew chief Darian Grubb will complete the season with their respective teams. Grubb will be promoted to technical director next season, an executive leadership role supporting Hendrick Motorsports’ engineering and vehicle development resources.
Grubb left a similar role to work with Byron this season.
Knaus and Johnson have combined for seven championships, all 15 playoff appearances and 83 Cup Series victories. However, they also have a lengthy history of bickering and infighting, especially when things aren’t going well -- such as this season.
"It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years," Hendrick said. "They’re fierce competitors, great friends and have immense respect for one another. They also fight like brothers. All three of us agree it’s finally time for new challenges and that a change will benefit them and the organization."
Knaus will return to the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team he originally joined 25 years ago. From 1993 to 1998, Knaus assumed a variety of duties under the direction of crew chief and mentor Ray Evernham. He oversaw body development and served as a tire changer for the No. 24 team, proving to be an integral part of driver Jeff Gordon’s 1995 and 1997 Cup titles.
"You can’t quantify how much Chad’s leadership and championship experience will benefit William, who is a special talent," Hendrick said. "The two of them are a great match, and I’m excited to see what they can do together. Chad has the Rainbow Warriors pedigree and truly appreciates the history of the No. 24. I’ve asked him to build another winner and given him the green light to put his stamp on the team and do it his way."
At the same time, Hendrick believes Meendering can provide the edge Johnson needs to break the most sought-after record in NASCAR.
"Over the last couple of years, he’s been one of the most sought-after talents in the garage," Hendrick added. "Kevin is an impressive person who came up in our organization and will hit the ground running on day one. We already know how well he works with our people and that he’s a respected, forward-thinking crew chief. Having worked with a veteran driver like Elliott Sadler for three years is extremely valuable experience. He’s the right fit for Jimmie at the right time.
"With an established No. 48 team behind them, I believe they will perform at a winning level next season and chase that eighth championship."
Both Johnson and Knaus recently signed contract extensions that were supposed to keep them together through the 2020 season.