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August 2, 2023

Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Donnie Allison elected to NASCAR Hall of Fame; Janet Guthrie honored

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, the indomitable driver and crew chief who paired up to win seven Cup Series championships, were elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday on their first appearance on the Modern Era ballot. They will be inducted as part of the Class of 2024 along with Donnie Allison, who was the top vote-getter on the Pioneer Ballot.

For the first time, all three Hall of Fame inductees are first-ballot choices. Johnson was selected on 93% of the ballots, and Knaus earned 81%. Allison drew 53% of the 57 ballots cast by the voting members after a Wednesday meeting at the Charlotte Convention Center. One ballot was also cast from fan voting that ran through Sunday on; the fan ballot chose Johnson, Knaus and Allison.

Janet Guthrie was selected as the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Guthrie will be recognized along with the Class of 2024 electees at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Jan. 19 in Charlotte.

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Johnson, 47, is one of just three seven-time champions of NASCAR’s premier series. The other two – Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty – were part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2010.

Five of those championships came consecutively during a brilliant run of success from 2006-10. Along the way, he tallied multiple wins in each of the series’ crown-jewel events – the Daytona 500 (2006, 2013), the Coca-Cola 600 (2003-05, 2014), the Southern 500 (2004, 2012) and the Brickyard 400 (2006, 2008-09, 2012). Johnson retired from full-time NASCAR competition after the 2020 season but has returned in two roles – one as a part-time driver and the other as a minority owner of the Legacy Motor Club organization.

“I wouldn’t say there was doubt, but it was great to hear my name called,” said Johnson, who watched the announcement and a video of his career highlights from a room upstairs from the Great Hall. “… They had so many key moments to this 19-year career I had which have led to this opportunity in the Hall, and those emotions just started running through my brain, through my mind. And then right in front of me was Brooke and Chad (Knaus), and to see so many images with Chad and I together, I’m like, ‘Oh, gosh, I hope he gets in, right?’ That’s the other component to this that I was really hopeful for. A lot of very deserving names on the ballot. I am a bit biased and very thankful that Chad and I are going in together.”

Johnson didn’t have to wait long as Knaus’ name was the final one called during Wednesday’s announcement. Virtually all of Johnson’s driving success came with Knaus atop the pit box. His seven Cup Series championships as a crew chief rank second only to the eight won by Dale Inman, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall in 2012.

Knaus, 51, transitioned from his post as crew chief to Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition at the end of the 2020 season. At the time of his shift to an executive role, Knaus had collected 82 Cup Series victories – 81 with Johnson and a first for William Byron.

That same montage of highlights also made an impression on Knaus.

“I can tell you, there’s a flush of emotions,” he said. “As I was watching the video that played once Jimmie was nominated and saw the way we grew up together, and as I sat back and I was watching him, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, how much I’ve learned throughout my career just because of Jimmie,’ I was really proud of that, and probably more proud of the fact that he’s in there than actually I am. But for me personally, it’s a huge, huge day. Very, very proud. Very proud of everybody that’s helped me, and it’s an honor to be here with Jimmie. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson in a lot of different ways. So it’s pretty awesome. Fantastic.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall as part of the Class of 2017, employed Johnson and Knaus at the launch of the No. 48 Chevrolet team. In a statement released shortly after the announcement, he cheered the dual honors for the venerable pair.

“I cannot imagine a more fitting moment than Jimmie and Chad being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in the same class,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said in a statement. “As individuals, they’re truly unique, with different personalities, strengths and approaches to their craft. Each is a champion and generational talent in their own right. But together, they were pure magic. All of us at Hendrick Motorsports were fortunate to see greatness up close as they re-wrote the record book. On behalf of our entire organization, congratulations to two of the fiercest competitors – and best people – our sport has ever seen. We look forward to celebrating their unprecedented achievements.”

Allison was a 10-time winner at NASCAR’s highest level and a member of the revered “Alabama Gang,” which now has four of its members in the Hall of Fame — his brother Bobby (2011), nephew Davey (2019), and longtime family friend Red Farmer (2021). The 83-year-old driver was the Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 1967 and counts the 1970 Coca-Cola 600 among his prized victories.

“I felt like maybe one day down the road, I might get inducted. It’s probably the culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of luck, and a lot of patience by that lady sitting right back there …” Allison said, motioning to his wife, Pat, in the crowd.

Guthrie, 85, broke barriers in the sport and was the first woman to find success in NASCAR’s modern era. She was the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500 in 1977, the same year that she drove in her first Indianapolis 500. Guthrie was also the first woman to lead a lap in the Cup Series, and she finished among the top 10 five times in her 33 starts.

Harry Gant finished third in voting for the Modern Era Ballot, followed by Ricky Rudd and Carl Edwards. Banjo Matthews was second to Allison on the Pioneer Ballot.