CONCORD, N.C. -- Chad Knaus finally was back in victory lane with a Cup Series win Saturday night after driver William Byron took the checkered flag at Daytona International Speedway.
In the final race of the regular season, the No. 24 crew chief celebrated with the rest of the team as Byron soaked in his first Cup Series win. For Knaus, it was the first time in over three years he had been back to victory lane for a points-paying Cup Series win.
While Knaus always had faith in Byron, it was a down-to-the-wire victory for the 24 team, which still didn't have a playoff spot before Saturday's race.
"Coming into the weekend we were optimistic," Knaus said. "We felt like we were going to have a good race car. Felt like the car was going to perform well. We knew William was really good at superspeedway racing. He's done exceptionally well at the restrictor plate tracks and has been able to get a lot of stage points. ...
"It was a long time coming. Obviously, the goal for me was to try to get to victory lane with this 24 car again. To be able to do it here in Daytona is really special."
Byron was able to avoid two massive accidents that collected a large chunk of the field in the final laps of the race. For the final restart in overtime, the 22-year-old pushed to the front of the pack and held on to cross the finish line first.
While the 24 team was celebrating the win, Knaus said relief over elation was his biggest emotion following the race.
"I really wanted to get to victory lane with this 24 car again," Knaus said. "To be able to do it with the legacy that Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham started with this car, at Hendrick Motorsports to get it back to victory lane, follow suit with what Chase (Elliott) was able to do with the 24 car, to put William's name up there, it's a lot of pressure. I feel really happy about it and definitely a lot of relief."
The win also was a way to assert that he could win with another driver not named Jimmie Johnson. Byron's win and Johnson's 17-place finish eliminated the seven-time champion from the playoffs. While Knaus said it hurts that his former driver and longtime friend won't be able to race for an eighth championship, he added that he's proud to have won with another driver.
"The one thing to be selfish from my standpoint is I wanted to get to victory lane with a car number as a crew chief without Jimmie Johnson on top of the door," Knaus said. "Nothing against Jimmie or any of that, but just to do it, to see if I could accomplish it. We've come close, had some really solid runs with the 24 car. Not as many this year as we would have liked to have had. To do it really means a lot, to be able to bring this team into the playoffs again."