How the all-time successful partnership broke up

In this weekend’s In Depth with Graham Bensinger episode, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson spoke in detail about the deterioration of his partnership with crew chief Chad Knaus.

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were paired together at the start of the 2002 NASCAR Cup season, the beginning of the previous season as the full-time driver of Hendrick Motorsports ’# 48 Chevrolet.

It was also Knaus ’first season on Rick Hendrick’s team, but they won three races and finished fifth in the championship series.

They established what many consider to be among the best drivers and crew chief partnerships, if not the best driver-crew chief partnership in the history of the Cup series.

The pair won 81 competitions and seven championships together, five in a row in 2006-2010. But like all good things, this relationship ended, and it was the unfortunate decay that led to its end after the 2018 season.

After winning the 2016 championship and combining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with an all-time record, Johnson started solidly in 2017 and won three races by early June.

But his win at Dover International Speedway that month was his last win of the year.

“When times were tough, Chad returned as the crew chief he was when we started,” Johnson said in this weekend’s episode. Deep with Graham Bensinger. “Micromanagement, explaining where I made mistakes, what I had to do, how I had to work in front of it.”

Bensinger asked what Johnson was thinking – and if he wanted to tell Knaus “F off.”

“I did,” Johnson admitted, “and it was … kind of the beginning of decay probably in a period of five or eight years. And he and I both hope we can come back and fix it. Because now looking back, it was a defense mechanism for him and he did it only because he cared, and I just got tired of hearing it. And so, I started shooting back. “

The pair went undefeated in 2018 and ended a series of 16 consecutive seasons with at least one but two wins.

“We just won the championship (in 2016),” Johnson said. “We’ll be back, we’re starting the 2017 season. And it really, really got under Chad that I wanted to be in Aspen and not Charlotte. And things started to get personal then, and questioning him where my heart is with the team and the time and effort I wanted to spend to be with the team was really such a starting point. “

After the 2018 season, Knaus moved to William Byron’s # 24 team, and Kevin Meendering replaced him as Johnson’s crew chief on Team # 48. Prior to the end of the 2019 season, Meendering was replaced by Cliff Daniels.

Johnson went undefeated in 2019 when he missed the playoffs for the first time, and with Daniels in 2020, he missed out on the playoffs before retiring.

After the 2020 season, Knaus was promoted to race director at Hendrick Motorsports. After Johnson retired, Daniels began his role as crew manager for newcomer Kyle Larson and Team 5.

They won 10 races, the most of all drivers since Johnson won 10 in 2007, as well as the championship together.

Johnson, meanwhile, switched to IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing for 2021. He drove # 48 on a Honda highway and street track and recorded 17th place at WeatherTech Raceway in Laguna Seca and the streets of Long Beach, California. He is scheduled to return for the 2022 season and plans to compete in the Indy 500 series for the first time.

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