Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus address split

NASCAR


CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus tried to set the record straight Thursday when they sat at Hendrick Motorsports and described why they will not work together in 2019.

As with any high-profile breakup, there is plenty of talk and chatter about what would cause HMS to end their 17-year run as driver and crew chief. Starting next season, Kevin Meendering (currently Elliott Sadler‘s crew chief at JR Motorsports) will guide Johnson and the No. 48 team while Knaus will move and work with William Byron, who is 22nd in the standings as a rookie.

Here is some of the chatter and how Johnson and Knaus and others at Hendrick Motorsports addressed those topics Thursday:

Johnson and Knaus hate each other and just could no longer work together:

Johnson: “It’s not that things are broken. … Could we have finished together? Of course, we have batted around all the questions that you are asking, but at some point, you have to go with your gut and it just feels right. We have had a hell of a run. And a new spark probably wouldn’t hurt us.”

Knaus: “It’s not like we’re trying to kill each other. … Let’s be frank, whoever thought that this would have gone 17 years? … We have done amazing things over the course of our career. It should not have stemmed the span that it did. That is very, very comforting to me, personally. You can try to twist it all you want and do that stuff, but that is not what it is about.”

More Knaus: “You guys have to realize that he was one of the first people ever to see my child. I was one of the first to see [Johnson’s daughter] Genevieve when she was just born. We have been together for a long time. I was at his wedding, he was at my wedding, we spend holidays together and that is going to continue, and it’s going to continue to grow. He has got a lot of valuable life lessons for me to learn yet about children and marriage and all that kind of cool stuff. I’m going to continue to lean on him on a lot of different levels and I’m always going to be there for him.”

The Charlotte race was the final straw as Knaus didn’t let Johnson know the risks of going for the win:

Johnson: “It hasn’t been a short-term decision or something that just happened in the recent time. It’s been an ongoing conversation that we’ve all had. The timing, just the way that it worked out, this is the week that it’s coming out to the public and we’re announcing it. … It was already done [before Charlotte].”

Knaus: “That wasn’t it. That was, albeit heartbreaking, that was not part of it. I wanted to win that race just as bad as he did. I beat myself up more than I probably ever blamed Jimmie for what happened there. I think I mentioned it, I could have probably come on the radio and said one or two things and he probably would have maybe thought and checked up a little bit, but my last words to him was ‘Go get his ass.'”

Johnson and Knaus both are signed through 2020 and then will retire:

Johnson: “I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been. I’m as committed as I’ve ever been. It’s not crossing my mind, I have not thought retirement. I know that social media likes to light up and have different opinions and it’s all a bunch of B.S. I’m here to win races and win championships. This is my passion, this is my job, this is what I do, this is who I am. I’m here to race. If and when I stop racing Cup full time, I’m still going racing. I just want to race 20 times a year instead of 38 or 39 times a year.”

Knaus: “You just don’t know. As of right now the goal is going to be for me personally is go build the No. 24 team to be the best team that I am possibly capable of. And we go and we win. … I doubt very highly that William and I will be together for 17 years.”

More Knaus: “[My wife] Brooke was involved in this 100 percent as we started going through everything. Even when I signed my two-year contract earlier this year, she was a very integral part of the decision-making process because we are paying attention to where we are at and what we are going to be doing in the future. As of right now, the crew chief thing is what we want to do. I want to do it. If I’m happy, she’s happy. [Our baby] Kip, he’s never happy, but we are working on that.”

Johnson bypassed longtime friend and former car chief Ron Malec for the job:

“There probably was a fork in the road for Ron to pursue that [crew chief] opportunity 10 years ago. Ron’s commitment to me and this No. 48 team, he was so happy in the role he was in as the car chief and then through his efforts and how much everybody believes in him, the opportunity came about in the shop for him to ascend to that next spot and now he is over all of those guys. So Ron’s decision was made several years back and the path he was going to go down.”

The announcement created a state of shock at Hendrick Motorsports:

HMS VP Jeff Andrews: “To say there was shock, I don’t think there was shock within the company. It breeds an excitement and a level of unknown, and really a challenge for all of us.”

William Byron will be intimidated by Chad Knaus:

Byron: “When I first started at Hendrick Motorsports two years ago, I met Chad and I spent some time around the 48 team, just kind of going to the races and sitting on the pit box. I feel if I have a good idea of anyone in the company, it’s him, which is a good thing. We’ve already had a few sit-downs. … I’ve worked with people — Rudy [Fugle] comes to mind in the truck series, he worked with Kyle, his expectations were pretty high and he expected a lot of me, so I didn’t bring my feelings to the race track. I tried to just approach it like we were there to accomplish the same goal. As long as you are there to accomplish the same goal, I think you can hopefully handle that.”

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Kevin Meendering is looking forward to being the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson in 2019: Video by Bob Pockrass

Kevin Meendering will be intimidated by Jimmie Johnson:

Meendering: “I worked here for 16 years. I know a lot of the systems, I know a lot of people. Our goal is to hit the ground running. … Jimmie, his personality, he’s a natural leader. Everybody looks up to him. Just his personality, my personality, he’s so easy to work with. He really is just one of the guys when you’re talking to him. He’s so down to earth and so level-headed, it’s just really easy to communicate with him.”

Darian Grubb’s role will be similar to what he was doing before he became William Byron’s crew chief this year:

Grubb: “We’ve seen where we’ve thought we’ve been deficient in some of the aero development and even some of the chassis development, kind of playing from behind from where we thought we needed to be. We just didn’t have the performance and we weren’t exactly sure what to put our finger on to increase performance the way we needed. Now we’ve narrowed down a few of those areas where we have some direct focus where we can make some gains on the next few years. … What I was doing before was more production based and trying to get the systems in place. … But now it’s going to much more on the technical side of things. Brian Whitesell is really handling the production side of things.”



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