If Jimmie Johnson wins a document eighth NASCAR Cup Sequence championship, it will not be with Chad Knaus as his crew chief.
When Matt DiBenedetto announced he was leaving Go Fas Racing, he was betting on himself to land with a more competitive team. That bet paid off Wednesday when he was announced as Leavine Family Racing’s driver for 2019.
The Team Penske driver has started a winning tradition of giving young fans checkered flags because “it’s a little thing we can do to try to make their day.”
Kevin Meendering, crew chief for Elliott Sadler in the Xfinity Series, will take over the No. 48 team starting in 2019, while Knaus will become crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, according to a team news release.
Knaus and Johnson began working together in Johnson’s rookie season in 2002, and they won five consecutive Cup championships together from 2006 to 2010 as well as championships in 2013 and 2016. They have struggled the past two years, however, with Johnson finishing 10th in the standings last year and failing to advance out of the first round of the playoffs this year.
“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a news release. “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, who ranks tied for sixth all time with 83 career Cup victories, is on a 53-race winless streak.
Johnson shared his thoughts on the change via Twitter.
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 group. pic.twitter.com/zA8fse6XfI
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) October 10, 2018
Meendering has spent the previous three years at HMS affiliate JR Motorsports and has guided Sadler to 3 wins and 38 top-5 finishes.
“Over the past couple of years, he is been one of the crucial sought-after abilities within the storage,” Hendrick stated. “Kevin is a formidable one that got here up in our group and can hit the bottom operating on Day 1. We already understand how properly he works with our individuals and that he is a revered, forward-thinking crew chief.
“Having labored with a veteran driver like Elliott Sadler for 3 years is extraordinarily priceless expertise. He is the suitable match for Jimmie on the proper time.”
Knaus signed a two-year contract extension in the course of the summer season and now might be paired with Byron, who sits 22nd within the Cup standings as a rookie and turns 21 in November. The transfer “reunites” Knaus with the workforce that gave him his first full-time Cup job in 1993: the HMS No. 24 crew.
“You possibly can’t quantify how a lot Chad’s management and championship expertise will profit William, who’s a particular expertise,” Hendrick stated within the launch. “The 2 of them are an awesome match, and I am excited to see what they’ll do collectively.
“Chad has the Rainbow Warriors pedigree and actually appreciates the historical past of the No. 24. I’ve requested him to construct one other winner and given him the inexperienced gentle to place his stamp on the workforce and do it his method.”
Solely the crew chiefs will change roles. The rest of the workforce personnel will follow their present drivers.
“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of many biggest combos in sports activities historical past,” Hendrick stated. “They defied the chances by acting at a championship stage for longer than anybody may’ve presumably imagined.
“What they’ve achieved collectively has been completely exceptional and might be celebrated for generations. This has been an unbelievable, storybook run.”
Present Byron crew chief Darian Grubb will transfer right into a technical director function within the HMS engineering and automobile improvement division.