The 2019 season will be a year of firsts for seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion crew chief Chad Knaus. After 17 seasons calling the shots for the No. 48 Chevrolet, Knaus will return to the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team he originally joined in 1993 – this time to serve as crew chief for talented sophomore driver William Byron.
Knaus is the only crew chief in NASCAR history to have earned five consecutive championships – a feat he achieved after guiding the No. 48 team and driver Jimmie Johnson to titles from 2006 through 2010. All told, the Rockford, Illinois, native’s seven championships rank as the second-most all-time among crew chiefs, one shy of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman’s record of eight.
Knaus’ introduction to racing occurred at a very young age as he followed his father, John, to tracks around the Midwest, helping out when he could and anxiously watching when he couldn’t. The desire to race continued throughout adolescence, and, at age 14, his future success was foreshadowed when he served as crew chief for his father. John Knaus won seven championships at Rockford Speedway, including four straight from 1987-90 against racing legends like Mark Martin, Alan Kulwicki, Rusty Wallace and Dick Trickle. A focus on success and leadership was engrained well before Knaus set his sights on NASCAR.
After graduating high school, Knaus moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in racing. In 1993, his determination paid off when he was offered a position on the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team of driver Jeff Gordon. From 1993 to 1998, he assumed a variety of duties under the direction of crew chief and mentor Ray Evernham. Knaus started in the body shop as an assistant and gradually worked his way through the ranks to the fabrication department. Eventually, he was put in charge of body development and served as a tire changer for the team, proving to be an integral part of Gordon’s 1995 and 1997 NASCAR Cup Series championship efforts.
After the 1997 season, Knaus left Hendrick Motorsports to pursue his dream of being a crew chief. The organization was stocked with a solid staff, but NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Rick Hendrick vowed that he would one day bring back Knaus. He spent the next few years gaining valuable experience as the car chief for driver Steve Park at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Knaus then went to work for Evernham Motorsports with driver Casey Atwood in 2000. The following year, he was the crew chief for Melling Racing driver Stacy Compton, who won two poles at Talladega Superspeedway.
In 2002, Knaus seized an opportunity to return to Hendrick Motorsports as the crew chief for the organization’s newly expanded fourth Cup team with rookie driver Johnson. The duo opened the season with success right out of the gate by winning the pole position for the prestigious Daytona 500. Shortly thereafter, Johnson and Knaus achieved the team’s first victory in just their 13th race together at Fontana, California. The pairing proved successful as they completed a stunning rookie season with three victories, six top-five finishes, 21 top-10s, four pole positions and a fifth-place result in the championship standings.
The Knaus-Johnson partnership continued to grow stronger and threaten for championships. From 2003-05, Knaus led the No. 48 team to 18 victories and an average finish of 3.5 in the final standings. They finished second in both 2003 and 2004, followed by a fifth-place effort in 2005.
In 2006, the No. 48 team’s persistence was finally rewarded. Knaus and Johnson won their first Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 trophies on the way to capturing their first NASCAR Cup Series championship. It proved to be just the beginning, as the team went on to a record-setting five straight titles from 2006-10 under Knaus. During the dominating run, the No. 48 team scored 39 victories, 81 top-five finishes, 117 top-10s and 17 pole positions.
The streak ended in 2011, with Knaus and Johnson winning five races but finishing sixth in the final standings. In 2012, Knaus led the No. 48 team to capture Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th all-time Cup victory May 12 at Darlington Raceway. The win was a boost for the team, which closed out the year with four more wins and contended for the championship. In the 2012 season finale, a rear-gear issue sidelined Johnson with 43 laps to go and left the team ranked third in the standings.
The duo’s sixth championship was captured in 2013, when Johnson won the season-opening Daytona 500 and recorded the first points-paying victory with Chevrolet’s Generation-6 race car, the brand-new Chevy SS. Knaus’ team remained ranked No. 1 in the standings for 28 of the series’ 36 race weekends en route to the title.
The 2014 season marked the first time the team finished outside the top 10 in the final standings, and in 2015, Johnson ended the campaign in 10th place. That did not sit well with the six-time champions, so Knaus set the bar high for 2016.
After finishing 16th in the 2016 Daytona 500, Knaus and Johnson won two races out of the first five. The team encountered a rough stretch that spanned 24 races, but they dug in for the final 10 playoff events of the season. In October, they won for a record eighth time at Charlotte Motor Speedway and then again at Martinsville Speedway, securing a bid as one of the four teams competing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. History was made on Nov. 20, as Johnson started last and finished first in dramatic style – winning a record-tying seventh title, matching the mark held by NASCAR Hall of Famers Earnhardt and Richard Petty.
Knaus and Johnson won three races together in 2017, including Johnson’s record-tying 83rd Cup Series win at Dover in June. The No. 48 team made the playoffs but struggled to find speed and was eliminated in the Round of 8 at ISM Raceway, the penultimate race of the season.
Entering 2018 with a brand-new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, the No. 48 team looked to make a run for a record eighth Cup Series championship. Despite a challenging year on the track, Knaus’ personal life flourished as he became a first-time father to son Kipling on Aug. 28. While Knaus, Johnson and the No. 48 team made the playoffs for a record-setting 15th time, they would go on to finish the 2018 season 14th in the standings.
In October 2018, it was announced that Knaus would take on a new challenge by returning to the No. 24 team where his career began. The veteran was named crew chief for rising star Byron, the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and 2018 Cup Series rookie of the year.
Knaus resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, with wife Brooke and son Kipling. During his free time, he enjoys traveling, speaking engagements, snowboarding and cycling. He also serves as an analyst for FOX Sports.