So, what’s really happening between Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus?
After 17 years, seven championships and a two-year contract extension signed earlier this summer, Hendrick Motorsports decided that 2019 was the season to end the most successful driver-crew chief pairing of the Modern Era, if not all-time.
Specifically, team owner Rick Hendrick decided it was time after having an honest conversation with both Johnson and Knaus. Combined with the emergence of prodigy William Byron and the opportunity to sign rising crew chief Kevin Meendering, all parties agreed the timing was just right.
Johnson will be paired with Meendering next season at the No. 48 team while Knaus will look to elevate Byron into a championship contender in his second full-time season in the flagship No. 24.
"I have to say ultimately, it was Rick’s call," Johnson said. "It's Hendrick Motorsports. We’ve had a lot of very open conversations and discussions but in the end, Rick is the one that makes the decisions."
Lost in the Johnson-Knaus element, is the fact that Hendrick is hoping to use those two's veteran experience to make Meendering and Byron better in their early Cup careers. It's about them more than Johnson and Knaus.
So with that in mind, here’s everything you wanted to know about the changes coming to Hendrick Motorsports.
THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME THIS HAS HAPPENED
In 2010, Hendrick shook up his crew chief line-up. Only Johnson and Knaus remained together with the No. 48, but the other three cars are received changes. Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 lost Steve Letarte to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88. But Gordon gained Alan Gustafson from Mark Martin and the No. 5. Martin, unfortunately, gained Lance McGrew and faded into obscurity.
The agreement worked for everyone else. Earnhardt made the Chase for the Championship for the first time in two years. Gordon rebounded from his first winless season to win three times and contended for the championship, scoring the most overall points that season. Johnson and Knaus won another championship.
WHAT MADE THIS RELATIONSHIP NOT REPAIRABLE?
Johnson and Knaus have endured several high-profile riffs and disputes. Most notably, Johnson and Knaus were bickering so badly in 2005 that Hendrick sat both of them down in a room with milk and cookies, like children, to make them hash things out. The two gelled after that, winning five championships in a row and seven overall. But even in success, both Johnson and Knaus still bicker over the radio and are said to have had heated exchanges after races over the years.
But they maintain it is a functional relationship.
Johnson: "It’s not that things are broken."
Knaus: "It’s not like we’re trying to kill each other. That’s not where this is. It’s an opportunity for growth for both of us. We’ve lasted longer than the average length of a marriage in the United States. We’ve worked really hard …
"It really is it’s the right time for the company… Jimmie and I, we love each other, we fight like brothers which has been perfectly documented. It’s perfectly fine, we’re okay with that. We’ve answered way harder questions than this before in the past. It’s just the right time for everybody."
DID JIMMIE OR CHAD DISAGREE WITH HENDRICK ON THE DECISION
Knaus: "You have to argue internally a little bit to make sure that you’re buying into it, but I think we all understood with what we’ve gone through over the years, the performance of the No. 48 right now that it’s time to go ahead and do something different."
DID THE ROVAL MISHAP HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THIS?
Johnson was running second to leader Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap of the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Second would have been good enough for Johnson to advance in the Cup Series playoffs. Knaus told Johnson to 'go get his ass' and Johnson ended up wiping both drivers out on the final corner, costing himself a chance at advancing in the process.
Johnson: "Not even close."
Knaus: "I think it was already done. I wanted to win that race just as bad as he did. I beat myself up more than I probably ever blamed Jimmie for what happened there. I think I mentioned it, I could have probably come on the radio and said one or two things and he probably would have maybe thought and checked up a little bit, but my last words to him was 'go get his ass.'"
Johnson: "I was crossing the start/finish line watching the white flag wave when he said that… yeah, that is what we do, we are there to win."
WILL THE ENTIRE CREWS MOVE WITH THEIR RESPECTIVE CREW CHIEF?
No, only the crew chiefs will change. Knaus will take over leadership for the currently existing No. 24 crew and Meendering will take over for the current No. 48 team.
Knaus: "We want to try to keep those guys together as much as possible because they are starting to… as you can see with our performance, starting to hit their stride. Really starting to get things going. So, the majority of that team will stay with the No. 48."
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