The Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus No. 48 team chapter of the Hendrick Motorsports book may come to a close at season’s end, but that doesn’t mean they won’t add more to the story.
Seven championships and 81 victories over the span of 17 years is an unbelievable run — a dynasty built by two masters of their craft. Johnson and Knaus will go down as two of the greatest legends this sport has ever seen — together and separately.
But now, Johnson will get the opportunity to compete for a record-breaking eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship with Kevin Meendering, who has established himself as one of the greatest minds in the NASCAR garage.
And if you need proof of Meendering’s worth, just check Johnson’s text messages.
“The amount of respect everybody here at Hendrick Motorsports has for him, from Chad to Alan Gustafson, you name the crew chief, even throughout the industry … I’ve been receiving text messages from competitors saying ‘hey he’s a sharp guy and a great choice,’ ” Johnson said. “So, his reputation and the way people hold his work ethic and his value the way they look and think of him.”
For Knaus, he gets to live a longtime dream by becoming crew chief on the iconic No. 24 car with a young William Byron at the helm — all of which is eerily similar to the days when he worked in the shop with the “Rainbow Warriors” for 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Gordon and Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham.
There never is a perfect time to make a change of this capacity to a championship-winning team, but in a weird way, it’s the right time for Rick Hendrick and Co.
This shuffle is a reset for Johnson and Knaus, giving them both a fresh start toward a higher goal. The thinking is Johnson will be able to achieve success without Knaus, and vice versa. If that wasn’t the case, team owner Rick Hendrick wouldn’t have made this move.
Both are confident this has nothing but positive potential for all parties involved.
“That excitement, energy and the commitment involved, the learning, the communication that takes place to start a new opportunity there is some magic in that,” Johnson said. “When new things start up there is always some extra energy and excitement around it. So, with that in mind I think comes opportunity for both cars and both teams.”
Through all the “breaking up the band” banter, there’s one thing that should be kept in mind — all four teams are now under one roof following the restructuring of Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 2017. They are all working together, pulling the rope in the same direction for one common goal — winning.
That means Johnson and Knaus will still be working together in some capacity, helping each other thrive for the good of the organization as a whole.
Knaus anticipates their relationship will even get stronger than ever before.
“Every time you leave out of battle you have an emotion a sense in you that you have to deplete before you are able to get back into that space,” Knaus said. “So, we have gone through that a lot. I talked to (Jeff) Gordon about it and he swears that he and Ray (Evernham) are better friends now than what they were when they were winning championships and winning races and I feel like we will be the same way.”
The two now have a chance to see what they can do without each other, but when it comes down to it, their legacy together lives forever.
“It’s not over and we’re lifers for this company,” Johnson said. “This is home for us. Our collaboration of working together is ending to the way that we’re all familiar with and we’re used to it, but it’s not over.”