John­son, Knaus to split af­ter 17 years

Vet­eran driver to part­ner with Meen­der­ing, while crew chief will team with Bryon next sea­son

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS -

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. (AP) — There will not be an eighth NASCAR ti­tle for Jim­mie John­son and Chad Knaus.

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports will split the driver and crew chief — the long­est pair­ing in NASCAR — at the end of a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son. John­son has not won a race in 17 months and was knocked out of the play­offs in the first round. John­son and Knaus won their record­ty­ing sev­enth cham­pi­onship in 2016 but have slumped in the two years since.

“It’s no se­cret that Chad and Jim­mie have ex­pe­ri­enced their ups and downs over the years,” owner Rick Hen­drick said. “They’re fierce com­peti­tors, great friends and have im­mense re­spect for one an­other. They also fight like broth­ers. All three of us agree it’s fi­nally time for new chal­lenges and that a change will ben­e­fit them and the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

John­son and Knaus were part­nered in 2002 when Knaus built the No. 48 team as part of a Hen­drick ex­pan­sion. They won a record­ty­ing seven ti­tles and made the play­offs in all 15 years of its ex­is­tence.

There has some­times been ten­sion be­tween the two, and Hen­drick more than once con­sid­ered split­ting them for the good of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The time fi­nally came Wed­nes­day in a per­son­nel shakeup an­nounced by the re­build­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Chad and Jim­mie will go down as one of the great­est com­bi­na­tions in sports his­tory,” Hen­drick said. “They de­fied the odds by per­form­ing at a cham­pi­onship level for longer than any­one could’ve pos­si­bly imag­ined. What they’ve ac­com­plished to­gether has been ab­so­lutely re­mark­able and will be cel­e­brated for gen­er­a­tions. This has been an in­cred­i­ble, sto­ry­book run.”

The changes Hen­drick will im­ple­ment next sea­son brings back for­mer em­ployee Kevin Meen­der­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion to part­ner with John­son. Meen­der­ing spent 16 years with Hen­drick be­gin­ning with a high-school in­tern­ship in the chas­sis depart­ment. His last three sea­sons have been at JR Mo­tor­sports, a Hen­drick af­fil­i­ate, as crew chief for El­liott Sadler.

Hen­drick called Meen­der­ing one of the “most soughtafter tal­ents in the garage” and said he’ll be ready to take over the No. 48 team on his first day.

“He’s a re­spected, for­ward-think­ing crew chief,” Hen­drick said. “He’s the right fit for Jim­mie at the right time. With an es­tab­lished No. 48 team be­hind them, I be­lieve they will per­form at a win­ning level next sea­son and chase that eighth cham­pi­onship.”

Knaus, mean­while, will crew chief Wil­liam By­ron and the No. 24 team next sea­son.

Knaus star ted with the No. 24 team and had a va­ri­ety of crew roles un­der men­tor Ray Evern­ham from 1993 un­til 1998. Knaus was an in­te­gral part of Jeff Gor­don’s 1995 and 1997 Cup ti­tles.

Dar­ian Grubb will be moved from By­ron’s crew chief to a tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor role that sup­ports Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports’ engi­neer­ing and ve­hi­cle de­vel­op­ment re­sources.

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports is in a re­build­ing mode fol­low­ing the re­tire­ments of Gor­don and Dale Earn­hardt Jr. and the fir­ing of Kasey Kahne. John­son is the vet­eran, sur­rounded by rookie By­ron, and promis­ing young­sters Chase El­liott and Alex Bow­man.

El­liott is the only Hen­drick driver to win a race this sea­son and locked him­self into the third round of the play­offs with a vic­tory last week­end at Dover.

“We be­lieve these de­ci­sions will pro­vide us with a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity for suc­cess in the fu­ture,” Hen­drick said. “As an or­ga­ni­za­tion, we are here to win races and com­pete for cham­pi­onships. Ever ything we do comes down to putting our peo­ple in the best pos­si­ble po­si­tions to fur­ther that ob­jec­tive. Win­ning is what it’s all about.”

AP PHOTO

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports an­nounced Wed­nes­day it will split crew chief Chad Knaus, left, and driver Jim­mie John­son at the end of this sea­son.

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