What’s currently the longest and most successful driver-crew chief partnership in NASCAR is no more after the 2018 season.
Jimmie Johnson won’t have Chad Knaus has his crew chief for 2019 and beyond. Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that Knaus would become William Byron’s crew chief and Johnson’s crew chief in 2019 would be Kevin Meendering, who currently works for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “They’re fierce competitors, great friends and have immense respect for one another. They also fight like brothers. All three of us agree it’s finally time for new challenges and that a change will benefit them and the organization.”
Johnson and Knaus combined to win seven championships from 2006-2016. Knaus has been Johnson’s only crew chief since Johnson entered the Cup Series with Hendrick in 2002.
The breakup of the duo means Johnson will have both a new crew chief and a new sponsor in 2018. Lowe’s, the company who has sponsored Johnson for his entire Cup Series career, is leaving at the end of the season.
Chad and I have had unimaginable success together and I’m grateful for his friendship. I can’t thank him enough for his dedication to success and the drive to win. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for the entire @TeamHendrick organization. pic.twitter.com/zA8fse6XfI
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) October 10, 2018
Johnson was eliminated from the playoffs at Charlotte
Johnson is no longer racing for the 2018 championship after his spin while going for the win at the Charlotte Roval resulted in his playoff elimination.
Johnson’s championship chase was pretty farfetched to begin with. 2018 has been the worst season of Johnson’s career. Heck, 2017 and 2018 have been the worst two seasons of Johnson’s career. And it hasn’t been close.
Johnson is winless in 2018 with two top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes. Combine that with 2017 and he has three wins, six top fives and 21 top 10s in the last 66 races. He had three wins, six top fives and 21 top 10s in his rookie season of 2002 and has had more than three wins, six top fives and 21 top 10s in 10 different seasons throughout his career.
Meendering currently crew chief for Elliott Sadler
With Elliott Sadler retiring from NASCAR at the end of the 2018 season, Meendering will come over from the Xfinity Series to be Johnson’s new crew chief. Meendering previously worked at Hendrick before joining JR Motorsports to be Sadler’s crew chief for the past three seasons.
“Kevin is an impressive person who came up in our organization and will hit the ground running on day one,” Hendrick said. “We already know how well he works with our people and that he’s a respected, forward-thinking crew chief. Having worked with a veteran driver like Elliott Sadler for three years is extremely valuable experience. He’s the right fit for Jimmie at the right time. With an established No. 48 team behind them, I believe they will perform at a winning level next season and chase that eighth championship.”
Byron is 22nd in the points standings in his rookie season for Hendrick after winning the Truck Series title in 2016 and the Xfinity Series title in 2017. His current crew chief, Darian Grubb, will move to a technical role with HMS.
“You can’t quantify how much Chad’s leadership and championship experience will benefit William, who is a special talent,” Hendrick said. “The two of them are a great match, and I’m excited to see what they can do together. Chad has the Rainbow Warriors pedigree and truly appreciates the history of the No. 24. I’ve asked him to build another winner and given him the green light to put his stamp on the team and do it his way.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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