Chad Knaus will serve as crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet for driver William Byron in 2019, a move that will end the longest current driver-crew chief pairing in the NASCAR garage with Knaus and Jimmie Johnson.
Hendrick Motorsports announced the news Wednesday as part of a reshuffling of crew chiefs for two of its four teams in the Monster Energy Series. Johnson will be paired with Kevin Meendering, currently a crew chief for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, on the No. 48 Chevrolet operation next year.
The Knaus-Johnson partnership produced a record-tying seven championships.
“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a release provided by the organization. “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.”
MORE: Jimmie through the years
The move reunites Knaus with Hendrick’s No. 24 team, where he served as a key member of the “Rainbow Warriors” pit crew for driver Jeff Gordon. Knaus oversaw body development and was part of the over-the-wall personnel as a tire changer for two of Gordon’s four series titles.
“You can’t quantify how much Chad’s leadership and championship experience will benefit William, who is a special talent,” Hendrick said. “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 No. 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.”
MORE: Track Silly Season moves
Darian Grubb, who returned to the pit box full time this year to guide Byron’s rookie season, will be promoted to the role of technical director. He previously held roles of vehicle production director and director of competition systems on Hendrick’s executive side.
Knaus, 47, has called the shots for the No. 48 team since 2002, Johnson’s rookie season in NASCAR’s top series. Their 17-year partnership has yielded an unprecedented run of five straight series titles from 2006-10, longevity in a span of nearly 600 starts, and 81 victories together (Johnson scored two wins at the start of the 2006 season with Grubb filling in for the suspended Knaus).
But for all its cumulative successes, the No. 48 team has struggled for more than a year, enduring the longest drought of the Johnson-Knaus era. Johnson has gone winless since June 2017, a stretch of 53 races.
“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” Hendrick said. “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.”
PHOTOS: Every Jimmie-Chad win
Johnson tweeted after the news came out.
Chad and I have had unimaginable success together and I’m grateful for his friendship. 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. pic.twitter.com/zA8fse6XfI
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) October 10, 2018
The 37-year-old Meendering has guided the JRM No. 1 Chevrolet for veteran Elliott Sadler the last three seasons in Xfinity competition. The team has advanced to the NASCAR Playoffs each year, with Sadler twice finishing as the series’ runner-up.
Meendering previously had a 16-year association with Hendrick Motorsports that started as a high school intern with the organization’s chassis shop. He eventually grew into the role of lead engineer for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet in 2011. Meendering’s next assignment will be to develop chemistry with a championship-caliber driver and help boost the performance of one of the sport’s most formidable teams.
“Over the last couple of years, he’s been one of the most sought-after talents in the garage,” Hendrick said of Meendering. “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.”