The duo of Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson are staying together.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Saturday that Johnson’s crew chief had signed on for another two years as Johnson’s crew chief. Knaus’ contract was set to expire at the end of 2018. With the contract extension, Johnson’s and Knaus’ contracts both expire at the end of the 2020 season.
Longest-tenured driver and crew chief pairing
Johnson and Knaus are not only the longest active driver and crew chief pairing, but they’re by far the most successful. Knaus has been Johnson’s crew chief ever since Johnson was a rookie in the Cup Series in 2002. That’s seven championships together and 83 wins for Johnson. We single Johnson out on the wins statistic because a few of them have come with interim crew chiefs as Knaus was suspended. You can’t be a great crew chief unless you’re willing to push the limits a bit.
“It probably has a lot to do with Jimmie’s patience. He is a very tolerant individual,” Knaus said with a laugh when discussing the two’s tenure together Saturday at Kentucky. “I think that has a lot to do with it, but I think Jimmie and I we have gotten to the point where we really understand one another. There is not a big question on the effort or the amount of effort that is going in from one side nor the other. We deeply care for one another obviously, families, daughters, and I have a son coming, so we have grown a lot together through life and I think that has a lot to do with it.”
News of Knaus’ contract extension publicly answers one of two big questions facing Johnson as the 2018 season entered its second half. Johnson’s longtime sponsor Lowe’s — who has also been with the driver for the entirety of his career — is leaving the No. 48 team at the end of the season. No succeeding sponsor or sponsors have been announced.
Johnson hasn’t won since June of 2017
Johnson went to victory lane three times in the first half of the 2017 season. He hasn’t been back since. The 2017 season was the worst of Johnson’s career in terms of top fives (four) and top 10s (11) and 2018 hasn’t been much better.
The struggles in 2018 can be traced, at least in part, to Chevrolet’s new Camaro car. After Austin Dillon surprised many with his Daytona 500 win Chevy hasn’t won a race. That’s a stretch of 17 races, the longest modern Cup Series drought for the manufacturer.
“Obviously, I’m a very competitive person and if we go three weeks without winning I’m frustrated,” Knaus said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and competing. I love to compete. The winless streak right now, yeah although it’s not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination it is where we are. It’s our reality right now and we’ve got to fight through it.”
Johnson is currently 12th in the points
Johnson has two top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes in 2018. He’s currently 12th in the standings and is in a good position to make the playoffs on points, though the margin for error isn’t too large. A win would qualify him for the playoffs and make things a lot easier heading into September.
A playoff berth would also mean Johnson would have a second shot at a record-breaking eighth championship. Johnson’s title in 2016 tied him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most Cup Series titles by a driver. Johnson is already in the discussion for greatest NASCAR driver of all-time — and Knaus has a lot to do with it. And Knaus is willing to admit the significance of what an eighth title would mean.
“I would say that in years past it was maybe more just focusing on the next week,” Knaus said. “But I think I would be foolish and lying to not admit the fact that to get eight championships and to put Jimmie on a pedestal by himself at the top of the standings with championships is not a huge desire of mine and something I definitely want to try to achieve.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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