CONCORD, N.C. – The 2018 season marked the last of 17 years that the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2024 inductees of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus were paired together as a driver-crew chief combination in the NASCAR Cup Series. That year, their driver teammates were 22-year-old Chase Elliott, 20-year-old rookie William Byron and 24-year-old Alex Bowman.
Elliott had already been teammates with Johnson for the previous two seasons, while Byron and Bowman were in their first full seasons with Hendrick Motorsports. Even today, Elliott recalls how in competition meetings Johnson was so insightful with his analysis of a specific stretch of track.
RELATED: Chemistry, belief power legendary success of Knaus-Johnson pairing
"I learned a lot from Jimmie (Johnson) on and off the racetrack," Elliott said. "The thing that always impressed me the most from a competition side was his ability to slow things down and talk about details that I always found difficult to find words for. That was extremely helpful to me as a young guy coming in. We’d be sitting in our meetings and I’d be thinking something and feeling a certain way about the car, but I just didn’t know how to say it without confusing everyone in the room.
"Jimmie always did a really good job of taking a 100-foot section in the corner and talking about it like it was 15 miles long. I always thought that was extremely impressive. Typically, the guys that are good slow things down. I think that’s part of the reason why he was so good."
Elliott also noted Knaus’ detailed and perfectionist approach to the role of crew chief.
"Chad (Knaus) took it upon himself to make sure he had his team built the way he wanted it to be built. His upbringing and the different places he worked over the years shaped him to know exactly what he wanted in a crew and he knew what buttons to push as far as making a car go fast."
Johnson was Byron’s favorite driver growing up and he noted how clean of a racer the seven-time champion is. In the Charlotte, North Carolina, native’s second Cup Series season, he was paired with Knaus on the No. 24 team. Byron’s first premier series win came with Knaus on the pit box at Daytona International Speedway in August 2020.
"Chad (Knaus) is very aggressive," Byron said. "He knows what it takes to win and he is willing to do whatever it takes to win – put in the work, put in the hours, communicate with people. He made me a better communicator. He got me out of my shell and taught me a lot of things about the sport. As a crew chief and vice president of competition, he understands all the different parts of the sport and that’s unique."
RELATED: Determination, details and desire drive Knaus' road to Hall of Fame
During their time as teammates, Bowman saw Johnson’s commitment to fitness, his work ethic and the mental side of racing, but the Tucson, Arizona, native was really struck by the driver’s kindness and his interactions with others.
"The biggest thing about Jimmie (Johnson) is how he treats people," Bowman said. "He can have a conversation with anybody and it’s a genuine, good conversation. He cares a lot about everyone and is not afraid of any new challenges."
RELATED: Johnson looks to 'savor the moment' with Hall induction
Fellow California native Kyle Larson was never a teammate with Johnson or Knaus, but he did compete against them both. In the 2016 championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was Larson on the front row against Johnson for the final restart as the driver of the No. 48 raced to his record-tying seventh championship. That race was one of three times they finished 1-2 in the Cup Series (Races at Texas Motor Speedway and Dover Motor Speedway in the spring of 2017 were the others.)
"I’m fortunate that I got to race against him and had some great battles with him,” Larson said. “He was a tough competitor. He always kind of lived on the edge of disaster – a little bit like me in a way. He probably made fewer mistakes than I did when he was in his prime.
"Beyond that, I think he is just a great person and a very well-respected person. I can’t think of anyone else who is as respected as Jimmie (Johnson). There’s a lot of young drivers like myself who paid a lot of attention to the way he raced and how he was off the racetrack."
With everything that Johnson and Knaus accomplished – 81 wins and seven Cup Series championships – Larson finds it only fitting that the legendary duo is going to be inducted together.
"I’m happy that they are both going in at the same time," Larson said. "That is special because they both made such an impact on the sport of NASCAR. Getting to work with Chad (Knaus) in his management role is a lot of fun. It’s always fun when you get to pick his brain a bit reliving stories and races with Jimmie (Johnson). Hearing about what they were doing to their race car to get an edge on the competition is always interesting to listen to. He transformed the sport on the crew side."
Catch the 2024 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Friday, Jan. 19, at 8 p.m. ET. The event will stream live on Peacock and will also be broadcast on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).