One of NASCAR’s greatest driver/crew chief tandems will break up in 2019. On Wednesday, Hendrick Motorsports announced Chad Knaus, who has worked on the team’s #48 driven by Jimmie Johnson since his first season in 2002, will move to the #24 car of William Byron.
Byron’s current crew chief Darian Grubb will be promoted to an executive role within the Hendrick organisation as crew chief Kevin Meendering of Xfinity Series affiliate JR Motorsports takes over as Johnson’s.
“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” team owner Rick Hendrick stated 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 longest-running active duo in NASCAR, Johnson and Knaus won seven Monster Energy Cup Series championships and 81 races in 17 years together. Despite their successes, 2018 has proven to be a difficult season for the pair as Johnson has yet to win a race since the 2017 Dover International Speedway spring event, a career-long winless streak of 53 races. He was eliminated from playoff contention after the Round of 16 in heartbreaking fashion in Charlotte Motor Speedway‘s Bank of America Roval 400.
“Chad and I have had unimaginable success together and I’m grateful for his friendship,” Johnson tweeted. “I can’t thank him enough for his dedication to success and the drive to win. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for the entire @TeamHendrick organization.”
The announcement adds to a continuing wave of change for the #48 team. Longtime sponsor Lowe’s, which has also been with Johnson and Knaus since the former’s rookie season, is departing NASCAR after the 2018 season.
In moving to the #24, Knaus rejoins the car he had serviced prior to becoming the #48’s crew chief. During the 1990s, he was a tire changer and body developer under crew chief Ray Evernham and driver Jeff Gordon. As part of the famed Rainbow Warriors, the team won three titles as Gordon blossomed into one of the sport’s most iconic names.
Byron, in his rookie season, is twenty-second in points.
“You can’t quantify how much Chad’s leadership and championship experience will benefit William, who is a special talent,” Hendrick commented. “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 #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.”
Meendering currently works as the crew chief for JRM’s #1 of Elliott Sadler. In three seasons together, Sadler and Meendering have won three races along with recording 75 top tens and winning the 2017 regular season championship.
With Sadler’s retirement after 2018 and Meendering moving up to the Cup level, the #1 will see both a new driver and crew chief. Noah Gragson, who races in the Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, is set to take over the ride in 2019. A crew chief has not been announced.