Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus won’t rejoin in 2019. Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday a driver/crew chief shuffle for next season that will pair Knaus with William Byron and Johnson with Kevin Meendering.
“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a press release. "They defied the odds by performing at a championship level for longer than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. What they’ve accomplished together has been absolutely remarkable and will be celebrated for generations. This has been an incredible, storybook run.”
Knaus and Johnson will finish 2018 together while Darian Grubb will ride out the rest of the season as Byron’s crew chief on the No. 24 team before moving on to the role of Hendrick Motorsports technical director.
Knaus has been Johnson’s crew chief since the No. 48 driver’s first full season in the Cup Series in 2002, making them the longest-standing current driver/crew chief pairing in NASCAR’s top series. Together, they have won seven championships, including a record five-straight between 2006 and 2010. Johnson is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships all-time by a driver. It also closes Knaus to within one of the crew chief record of eight by Hall of Famer Dale Inman.
Johnson has 83 career victories in 609 races, tying him with another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Cale Yarborough, for sixth on the all-time wins list.
Johnson, Knaus, and their No. 48 team have struggled recently, though. Their last win came in 2017 at Dover International Speedway in Delaware. They made the 2018 playoffs but were among the four teams eliminated in the first round.
“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 new challenges and that a change will benefit them and the organization.”
Both Johnson and Knaus are under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2020 season.
Meendering will move from the No. 1 JR Motorsports team of driver Elliott Sadler to replace Knaus on the No. 48 Cup Series crew next year. Sadler, with Meendering’s leadership, is in contention for the 2018 Xfinity Series championship. Together, the two won the Xfinity Series regular season championship last year. JR Motorsports is co-owned by Hendrick.
“Over the last couple of years, he’s been one of the most sought-after talents in the garage,” Hendrick said of Meendering. "Kevin is an impressive person who came up in our organization and will hit the ground running on day one. 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.”
Sadler will retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of the 2018 season and will be replaced on the No. 1 team by Noah Gragson. It’s unclear at this point who will be the crew chief for his team next year.