CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson took their rightful place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center.
"I’m so proud of them both - when you look at the races and how many championships (they won) in a row," Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick said during the Hall of Fame ceremony. "More than that, I’m so proud of the people they are, the character they have and the family men that they have become."
PHOTOS: Scenes from the 2024 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction weekend
Knaus and Johnson were joined by Donnie Allison in compromising the Class of 2024. Janet Guthrie was honored as the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
For Knaus' induction, his wife Brooke, son Kipling and daughter Vivienne Mae presented him with the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee ring. Knaus spoke of how he was molded by the tough racing in the Midwest, how he cold-called Hendrick Motorsports to speak to crew chief Ray Evernham and that led to a job. Knaus shared how a chance encounter with the Dorton family led him to the No. 48 crew chief position. He talked about how the famous "milk and cookies" meeting at the end of 2005 with Hendrick charted a new course in his working relationship with Johnson and set the stage for the No. 48 team to become champions. Knaus thanked numerous people in his speech including his family, Evernham, Ron Malec, the Hendrick family, Johnson and the fans.
"I always go back to what my grandparents taught me," Knaus said in closing. "Work hard from morning until night. Always do what is right and provide for your family. It is an honor to be here tonight. I thank you all."
Knaus joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1993 when he was hired by Evernham to work on the No. 24 team – starting in the body shop and rising to be in charge of body development in the fabrication shop. Eventually, he became a tire changer on the Rainbow Warriors pit crew, winning championships with Evernham and Gordon in 1995 and 1997.
"Chad would get his work done and he would always ask to do extra," Evernham recalled. "He was the first guy in, the last guy to leave. He always wanted to learn something. In his mind, every day he walked out that door being better than he was when he walked in."
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After departing to work as a car chief and crew chief at other organizations, Knaus returned to Hendrick Motorsports in 2002 to work with Johnson in his rookie season for the organization’s fourth Cup Series team – the No. 48.
From 2002 to 2018, Knaus and Johnson were an unstoppable driver-crew chief pairing, producing 81 points-paying wins and seven championships, including an unprecedented five consecutive titles from 2006 to 2010 in the Cup Series. Their seven championships match the Hall of Fame driver-crew chief duo of Richard Petty and Dale Inman. Their 81 wins rank second for a driver-crew chief pairing.
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"They were the best pairing of crew chief and driver that has ever been in this sport," Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was teammates with Knaus and Johnson from 2008 to 2017, said. "I know there are some pretty compelling arguments for Dale Inman and Richard Petty, guys like that. Any driver in the field would have loved to have worked with Chad (Knaus). Every driver in the field would have loved to have known what his approach was and some of the things he was doing to make his cars work. Jimmie (Johnson) was a very fortunate guy to be able to be behind the wheel of that race car and he went out there and got the job done."
PHOTOS: Chad Knaus' historic career at Hendrick Motorsports | Jimmie Johnson's legacy
Bringing his Hendrick Motorsports career full circle, Knaus worked with driver William Byron on the No. 24 team in 2019 and 2020. Over a 21-year career as a crew chief, Knaus won 82 races and seven NASCAR Cup Series championships atop the pit box. His 82 wins as a crew chief are the most in the history of Hendrick Motorsports and the third-most among all crew chiefs in the sport. Knaus is the sixth crew chief to reach the NASCAR Hall of Fame, joining Evernham, Dale Inman, Leonard Wood, Waddell Wilson and Kirk Shelmerdine. Today, Knaus brings his legendary work ethic, meticulous attention to detail and constant pursuit of perfection to his role as vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports.
For Johnson’s induction, wife Chandra and daughters Genevieve and Lydia presented Jimmie with his NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee ring. Johnson spoke of his beginnings in California when he knew he wanted to race at the age of 4. He spoke of his humble upbringing, how his parents molded him into the person he is today and his transition from offroad racing to stock cars. Johnson detailed his move to Hendrick Motorsports and how he first met Rick through his late son Ricky. He also described his first meeting with Knaus and how his fellow Hall of Famer was able to bring the best out of him. Johnson thanked multiple people as well, including his family, the Herzog family, the Hendrick family and Jeff Gordon.
"This is the highest honor," Johnson said. "To stand alongside our sport’s greats in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s been a dream come true to race in NASCAR."
Johnson’s time at Hendrick Motorsports started in 2001 with a three-race schedule. He then began his legendary partnership with Knaus in 2002, scoring his first win in just his 13th Cup Series start. That victory came in the El Cajon, California, native’s home state at Auto Club Speedway. Driving for the team from 2001 to 2020, Johnson’s 83 wins are second to Gordon’s 93 victories in team history. Johnson is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time Cup Series wins list. With seven championships, Johnson is one of three drivers to hold that honor – Petty and Dale Earnhardt are the others.
Throughout his career at Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson had a knack for delivering in crown-jewel events and setting new track records. He won two DAYTONA 500s, four Brickyard 400s, a record 11 victories at Dover Motor Speedway, nine at Martinsville Speedway and eight at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including four wins in the Coca-Cola 600. He led 18,941 laps in his time at Hendrick Motorsports. After running various IMSA and IndyCar events in 2021 and 2022, Johnson returned to NASCAR as the co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, which competes in the Cup Series.
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"Jimmie (Johnson) is just a great person and a great teammate," Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager Jeff Andrews said. "I appreciate all that he did for this company. Outside of the wins, the numbers and the records that could stand possibly forever, he’s one of the greatest if not the greatest to get behind the wheel of a stock car."
Knaus and Johnson worked together on the Garage 56 project for the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. This initiative saw Hendrick Motorsports, in collaboration with NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear run a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car.
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Knaus and Johnson are the 10th and 11th full-time personnel members of Hendrick Motorsports to be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The others are:
Darrell Waltrip: Class of 2012; drove for the team from 1987-1990
Terry Labonte: Class of 2016; drove for the team from 1994-2006
Rick Hendrick: Class of 2017; team owner
Mark Martin: Class of 2017; drove for the team from 2009-2011
Benny Parsons: Class of 2017; drove for the team in 1987
Evernham: Class of 2018; crew chief for the team from 1992-1999
Jeff Gordon: Class of 2019; drove for the team from 1992-2016
Wilson: Class of 2020; crew chief for the team from 1987-1988, 1990-1991
Earnhardt Jr.: Class of 2021; drove for the team from 2008-2017
The evening also featured a remembrance of the late Ricky Hendrick during Allison's induction speech. Allison spoke of his work with young drivers, one of whom was Hendrick. Allison worked with Hendrick at Darlington Raceway during Hendrick's time in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series and spoke glowingly of his talent.