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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

End of a Era: Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson Split for 2019

After 17 seasons together, the driver-crew chief pairing of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus will come to a conclusion at the end of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.  Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday (Oct. 10) that Knaus will move from Johnson’s pit box to become the crew chief on William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet next season.

For Johnson, he will have a new voice in his ear next season.  Kevin Meendering, currently the crew chief for Elliott Sadler‘s No. 1 Chevrolet in the XFINITY Series, will take over as Johnson’s crew chief.

“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a press release.  “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.”

The success that Johnson and Knaus enjoyed together is undeniable.  Seven championships, including five in a row from 2006-2010.  The vast majority of Johnson’s 83 Cup victories (with a couple of exceptions due to suspension), not to mention victories in 16 consecutive seasons.  A record 11 victories at Dover International Speedway.  Finally, a reputation as the toughest driver-crew chief combination in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the sport’s modern era.

Johnson is thankful for his time with Knaus.

For Johnson, 2019 will not be a complete unknown for him, but he’s never been without Knaus in Cup for long.  Knaus has been suspended by NASCAR multiple times during his time as Johnson’s crew chief.  One notable suspension came in 2006 when he was suspended for a violation found after pole qualifying for the Daytona 500.  Darian Grubb was tabbed to sub and took Johnson to victory in the Daytona 500.  Grubb, who is currently Byron’s crew chief, will move off of the pit box and into a new role as technical director for Hendrick Motorsports.

In Meendering, Johnson is getting one of the best minds in the garage to help guide him going forward.

“Over the last couple of years, [Meendering has] been one of the most sought-after talents in the garage,” Hendrick continued.  “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.”

Johnson enters this weekend’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega 14th in points after his move for the win at Charlotte cost him a chance at advancing to the Round of 12.  He is currently on a 53-race winless streak, the longest of his career.  Last weekend, he didn’t even get to the green flag before a ball joint broke on his Lowe’s Chevrolet, forcing Johnson to start the race 10 laps down.  He has two top five and 10 top 10 finishes so far in 2018, career lows.

With Grubb, Byron is currently 22nd in points with three top 10 finishes.  His best run so far this year has been a sixth at Pocono in July.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor. Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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3 comments

  1. i think they’re doing this to get knaus entrenched with a new, younger driver, to groom them for a run at championship in a year or two. johnson will be the next to retire, probably in 2 yrs. so i think hendrick is doing this to get that chemistry going for the 24 team. then want the 24 and 9 to get the juggernauts of the orgianization as the 24 and 48 were years ago. in a few years i feel these teams will be back at the front as the drivers at stewart/haas are aging as well.

    probably in another 5 yrs there will be more new faces in cup. the guys are starting to age and after 15 or 20 yrs the burn out will get them or their health will start to decline. most of the guys have kids either in school or will be starting school that means less time with their families cause the families won’t be able to travel as much as a unit.

  2. A few factors to consider that led up to this divorce:

    1) Once Chad settled down off the track and started a family, it seemed like the championship edge disappeared.
    2) Jeff Gordon’s retirement as a driver. The 48 team hasn’t had another team in the Hendrick camp to consistently measure themselves against and push them for a couple of years. You had two disinterested veterans in Kahne and Dale Jr. and a young driver in Elliott, and then unproven drivers picking up the Kahne and Dale Jr. rides.
    3) Stewart-Haas Racing moving to Ford. At the time, conventional wisdom speculated on how SHR would perform without the technical alliance with Hendrick. It turns out the speculation was misplaced.
    4) Latest championship format. The 48 team couldn’t simply flip the championship switch after taking the summer off.

  3. Wow! The end of an era and it couldn’t come soon enough. The fact that Meendering was Sadler’s crew chief does not sound like a step up to me not matter how Hendrick tries to spin it. Also, a driver gelling with a crew chief, no matter how successful they were individually, is always a crapshoot. My bet is that Johnson has 2 years left before retirement anyway so IMO this is the beginning of the end.