CONCORD, N.C. – The 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season might have ended only a few days ago, but it’s never too early to start working toward 2019.
That’s certainly true for Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, who will both tackle new challenges next year.
The driver and crew chief made their 602nd – and final – start together as a team last Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2019, Knaus will move to the No. 24 team as the crew chief for William Byron, while Kevin Meendering will move from his crew chief position at JR Motorsports to take over as crew chief of the No. 48 team with Johnson.
“I think a new start is going to be good for both of us,” Johnson said, “and just bring a new set of challenges for both of us.”
Both men said they’re excited about what’s to come.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun in 2019,” Knaus said. “I’m really excited to get Kevin Meendering in here. He’s been a huge asset to the company for a long period of time. I think he’s going to contribute very much at the Cup level, so that’s a cool thing. And I’m really excited about working with William. I think William is a guy that’s going to continue to help push Hendrick Motorsports to the forefront.”
Johnson got the chance to work with his new crew chief during a test session at Atlanta Motor Speedway last month, noting that they’re taking every opportunity they can to get to know each other’s tendencies and the fundamentals of how they want to operate next season.
That preparation is still in high gear with the 2018 season now in the rear-view mirror. Johnson said he has time on the simulator planned in order to get more reps with Meendering, and he hopes to potentially test at a track for Hendrick Motorsports again in the offseason.
“We’re working on 2019 as we speak,” the driver said. “As much spare time as we have, we’re in contact with one another. He’s been here at the shop quite a bit. On his off weekend he came to the Martinsville race to watch the team and listen and learn. He (stuck) around Sunday in Homestead to listen and learn. So, we’re working hard on the future already.”
After a record-tying seven championships on the track and “a lifetime together” off the track, Johnson and Knaus are moving on to new opportunities. But, as Knaus put it, “there’s nothing to be sad about.”
They’re both eager to see what the future holds.
“Next year with a new sponsor, new crew chief, new rules package, I’m looking forward to that fresh start on the 48 car,” Johnson said. “And I really think Chad is, too, on the 24. He and William are going to be a great pairing together.”