Beardless Jimmie Johnson throws it back while looking forward

Jessica Ruffin
NASCAR.com

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The 17-year Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus era will come to a close Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the two have their final race together as driver and crew chief.  It also marks Johnson’s final race with Lowe’s, and the No. 48 Chevrolet will display a special throwback paint scheme that pays homage to Johnson’s 2002 car.

Johnson, himself, went for the throwback look to commemorate the final weekend, shaving off his signature scruff in favor of the bare-faced look that he sported when he started with Lowe’s and Knaus in 2002.

PHOTOS: Chad Knaus through time

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The 43-year-old driver teased his new (old) style with a photo of a razor Friday morning ahead of opening practice in South Florida.

Later in practice, his tweet proved accurate, as a fresh-faced Johnson patrolled the garage.

Johnson’s clean-shaven face took fans back to his earliest years in NASCAR, when he first started with Knaus. In 17 years, the Johnson-Knaus duo earned 81 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins (Johnson has 83 career wins), including Daytona 500, Southern 500, Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 crown jewel victories.

Johnson won his seventh Monster Energy Series title in 2016, tying the record for the most championships in NASCAR’s premier series with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. Knaus was atop the pit box for all seven.

After 2018, Johnson and Knaus will go their separate ways within Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson will continue driving the No. 48 Chevrolet with new crew chief Kevin Meendering, current crew chief of the JR Motorsports No. 1 Xfinity Series team. Knaus will serve as crew chief for rising star, No. 24 driver William Byron, who clinched Sunoco Rookie of the Year last weekend at ISM Raceway.

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This weekend, though, it’s about Johnson, Knaus and Lowe’s — and closing out their era on the highest note.

“Man, I want to win this year,” Johnson said in a team release earlier this week. “I want to win with Lowe’s on the car and I want to win with (No. 48 team crew chief) Chad (Knaus). So, that’s our top priority. Seeing that (rookie) paint scheme is going to trigger emotions from myself, and I’m sure, our fans. So many good years with that paint scheme and victories and such.

“I think this weekend’s definitely going to be an emotional one.”

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