Few things last forever- especially race car driver and crew chief pairings. Given that, the combo of seven-time champion and crew chief Chad Knaus have defied the odds with 17 years together. This week we learned that Johnson and Knaus will go their separate ways in 2019. Knaus will lend his talents to the 24 team and William Byron, while Johnson will collaborate with Kevin Mendeering. Current Byron crew chief Darian Grubb takes on the role of technical director at Hendrick Motorsports.
We’re told this has been in the offing for some time. There’s no reason to believe there is any one thing. HMS has already had its share of shake-ups in the cockpits with Kasey Kahne moving on and the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Johnson suddenly found himself as the elder statesman among a line-up that includes Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott.
Byron will greatly benefit from the direction of Knaus. Johnson owes much to Knaus for his part in 83 wins and seven titles. While detractors will accuse the crew chief of cheating with impunity, a less emotional look suggests that Knaus always seems to have the angles covered. Strategically, Knaus has been brilliant and his adjustments have been money.
Mendeering has been serving as chief for Xfinity veteran Elliott Sadler. It will be interesting to see how Jimmie Johnson will take direction from him. The new pit boss will get his mettle tested from the get-go. Johnson has tended to defer to Knaus in terms of mid-race calls. How much of it was a trust in the crew chief knowing more technically, and how much of it was because it was Knaus? We’ll soon find out.
The moves could prove risky, but its time for Johnson and Knaus to move on from each other. They will go down in NASCAR history as legends, and nothing moving forward will change that. It could spell the beginning of the end for two storied careers, but more likely, it will be an exciting new chapter.