By Michael Eubanks
One of the winningest partnerships in NASCAR history is about to come to an end.
Hendrick Motorsports announced on Wednesday that seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will lose Chad Knaus as his crew chief, with JR Motorsports crew chief Kevin Meendering calling the shots on the No. 48 pit box in 2019.
Knaus will move to the No. 24 team to become crew chief for Johnson’s teammate William Byron, with Byron’s current crew chief Darian Grubb being promoted to a technical director role in Hendrick’s engineering and vehicle development department, the team announced in a statement.
The 17-year partnership between Johnson and Knaus was the longest-running between a driver and crew chief in NASCAR. The combination won a record-tying seven Cup Series championships, including five straight from 2006-10.
But the duo has recently struggled to find success. The No. 48 car has not been in Victory Lane since Dover in May of 2017. Johnson’s 53-race winless streak is the longest of his career, and he is on the cusp of his first winless season in his career.
“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.”
Johnson shared his thoughts on Twitter, thanking Knaus.
Knaus will return to familiar territory when he joins the No. 24 team. From 1993 to 1998 he was a member of the legendary Rainbow Warriors pit crew and won two championships with 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Gordon behind the wheel and 2018 inductee Ray Evernham serving as crew chief.
Both Johnson and Knaus will surely become Hall of Fame members as well someday. In addition to seven championships, they also won the 2013 Daytona 500 (Johnson also won in 2006 while Knaus was serving a suspension) and four Brickyard 400s.
The decision to split the winning combination was likely a hard one for Rick Hendrick, but Hendrick stands behind his decision and believes it will be one that will greatly benefit all parties going forward.
“We believe these decisions will provide us with a tremendous opportunity for success in the future,” Hendrick said. “As an organization, we are here to win races and compete for championships. Everything we do comes down to putting our people in the best possible positions to further that objective. Winning is what it’s all about.”