Column By: SHANE CARLSON / RPW – CONCORD, NC – Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have become synonymous with each other over the course of the last 17 years.
Since 2002, Knaus has been atop Johnson’ pit box and been a key figure in guiding Johnson to seven championships, which has Johnson tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the sport’s only seven-time champions.
The pair has also visited Victory Lane 81 times as a unit, with Johnson’s other two wins coming in the first two of three races in 2006 while Knaus served a suspension.
On Wednesday, Hendrick Motorsports formally announced the pair would split at season’s end.
“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “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 announcement came in part of a major restructuring set to take place after the season’s final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Knaus will be reunited with the No. 24 team with driver, the team he began his Hendrick Motorsports tenure with back in 1995, winning the 1995 and 1997 championships with driver Jeff Gordon when Knaus was a part of the “Rainbow Warriors” pit crew. William Byron will serve as Knaus’ driver.
Johnson will be receiving the services of Kevin Meendering, who currently serves atop the pit box for Elliott Sadler and has recorded three wins with the No. 1 JR Motorsports team in the Xfinity Series over the last three years.
With Knaus moving over to William Byron’s team, Byron’s current crew chief, Darian Grubb, will be promoted to the executive side of Hendrick Motorsports, serving as the technical director. Grubb has also held the vehicle production director and director of competition systems during his Hendrick tenure.
The Johnson-Knaus tandem has been together since Johnson’s 2002 rookie season, and has tallied at least one win in each season, except for this season. Winless through the season’s first 30 races, Johnson is riding a career-long winless streak of 53 race, dating back to June of last year. Included within those 53 races was the entirety of the 2017 playoffs, the first time Johnson had ever gone winless since the playoff era began.
“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” Hendrick said in his statement. “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.”
The Johnson-Knaus divorce isn’t the only shockwave to be sent through the No. 48 camp this season.
Months after Lowe’s announced it would not be returning to Johnson and the No. 48 team, he said the team is close to unveiling the new sponsor for next year.