CONCORD, N.C. -- With nearly 17 years together in the books, the Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus duo has had the longest standing driver-crew chief relationship in NASCAR Cup Series history.
A relationship that as Knaus puts it, "lasted longer than the average length of a marriage in the United States."
Throughout those 17 years together, which began with Johnson's rookie season in 2002, the pair has won a record-tying seven Cup Series championships together. They have culminated a total of 83 wins, 224 top-five finishes, 351 top-10s, 35 poles and over 18,000 laps led throughout the course of 609 starts to date.
And this season they competed in the series playoffs for a record 15th time.
"We’re fierce competitors," Johnson said Thursday. "We both want to win races, we both want to win championships and we acknowledge the fact that we’ve had a hell of a run. It’s been a long, amazing run of 17 years."
As announced Wednesday, the championship partnership will go their separate ways within the organization following the end of the 2018 season, with Knaus taking over leadership of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Camaro ZL1 team with driver William Byron.
Johnson will be paired with Kevin Meendering, current crew chief for NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff contender Elliott Sadler.
“It’s the right time with the company with what we’ve got going on," Knaus said. "We made a huge fundamental shift last year with the way the way that we operate at Hendrick Motorsports; combining the two buildings and putting four teams under one roof essentially. There’s time for evolution that creates opportunity for a lot of people. Obviously Kevin (Meendering), (No. 24 team crew chief) Darian (Grubb) and myself. We’ve got to do what we feel is best for the No. 48, we’ve got to do what we feel is best for the other parts of the company. It’s just the right time.”
The news comes after a season of challenge for Johnson, Knaus and the No. 48 team. With just six races remaining in the 2018 season, the No. 48 car has yet to visit Victory Lane this year even after showing improvement the last few weeks.
Strong showings in Las Vegas and Richmond followed by a near-miss at the Charlotte Motor Speedway "roval" in the NASCAR playoffs Round of 16 led to the No. 48 team's elimination from the 2018 championship contention.
"Change brings excitement, a new breath of fresh air, a spark."Jimmie Johnson
Both Johnson and Knaus reiterated the fact that there were many facets that went into the decision, which had been an ongoing conversation for some time.
And Johnson said it ultimately came down to "manning up" and having those tough conversations, but that after seeing all the pieces of the puzzle laid out on the table, they were able to go through the process of piecing it together and finding sources of optimism.
"Sometimes, change brings new opportunity," Johnson stated. "Change brings excitement, a new breath of fresh air, a spark. Whatever it might be, that opportunity is now here for us. We’ve been highly committed to each other, this team and our relationship, but it’s just to the point where we feel like change is the next step and potentially the next step for our next level of greatness as individuals. It just feels like it’s time.”
While the duo will pursue their careers individually come the end of the 2018 season, there's no denying the fact that Johnson and Knaus accomplished incredible feats in the sport together.
The biggest question is, why now?
"Whoever thought that this would have gone 17 years?" Knaus countered. "Reflect a little bit on what we accomplished. And that is what I have really focused on. 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."
“It’s not over and we’re lifers with this company," Johnson said. "This is home for us and our collaboration of working together, it’s ending the way that we’re all familiar with it being, but it’s not over. My interaction with the young drivers, with the crew chiefs in general, Chad’s input, to me, that line of communication, the ability to work together is still there.”
Knaus echoed Johnson's sentiments, stating the fact that although they've had a professional relationship now for 17 years, they've also had a deep-seated friendship that isn't contained just to the track and the shop.
"You guys have to realize that he was one of the first people ever to see my child," Knaus said of Johnson. "I was one of the first to see Genevieve (Johnson) 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."
Regardless of the changes for both Johnson and Knaus next season, there's one factor that it comes down to: their desire to continue winning, and both believe that this change will lead to growth.
"The next six races are about celebrating everything we've done together and getting more wins," Johnson said.