The incredibly successful duo of crew chief Chad Knaus and driver Jimmie Johnson won’t be teamed together in 2019, according to a news release from Hendrick Motorsports.
On Wednesday, the organization announced crew chief changes for 2019 that impact the No. 48 team of Knaus/Johnson as well as the No. 24 entry driven by rookie William Byron and crew chief Darian Grubb.
Knaus, crew chief for Johnson since the California native began competing fulltime in 2003, will be paired with Byron next year while current Xfinity Series crew chief Kevin Meendering will take over the crew chief role for Johnson’s group.
Grubb, Byron’s current crew chief, will move into the role of technical director at HMS.
Together, Knaus and Johnson have won 81 points-paying races in NASCAR’s top series and seven championships. The win total is tops among active crew chiefs and third all-time, behind Dale Inman (193) and Leonard Wood (95).
Johnson, 43, has 83 career wins, earning two when Knaus was suspended by NASCAR. His seven championships are tied for the most in the series with two NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers – Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
It is the longest active driver/crew chief pairing in NASCAR.
“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in the news release announcing the changes. “They defied the odds by performing at a championship level for longer than anyone could’ve possible imagined.”
Hendrick said there was agreement among the three that it was time for a change. Johnson is currently mired in the longest losing streak of his career at 53 races; he has won multiple races for 16 consecutive seasons, a streak that’s in jeopardy of coming to an end.
“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” Hendrick said. “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 a new challenge and that a change will benefit them and the organization.”
Johnson and Knaus did run well enough to earn one of this year’s 16 Playoff berths and Johnson nearly snapped his winless streak in the cutoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, spinning out after contact with Martin Truex Jr. in the last turn. Instead, Johnson failed to advance to the second round when he lost out on a tiebreaker for the final transfer spot.
Even so, it still marked Johnson and the team’s 15th consecutive Playoff appearance, a record no other group can claim.
Meendering, 37, is in charge of the No. 1 Xfinity Series team with driver Elliott Sadler and fielded by JR Motorsports. The organization is co-owned by Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt.
Prior to moving to JRM, Meendering worked his way up through the ranks at HMS, starting out as an intern and eventually serving as lead engineer for the No. 88 team with Earnhardt Jr.
“We already know how well he works with our people and that he’s a respected, forward-thinking crew chief,” Hendrick said. “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.”
Byron, the 2017 Xfinity Series champ, has three top-10 finishes and is 22nd in points through 30 Cup races.
Hendrick said he has given Knaus full rein with the No. 24 group next year.
“I’ve asked him to build another winner and given him the green light to put his stamp on the team and to it his way,” he said.