The Thrill is Gone: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus separating after 17 seasons

One of the most successful, and longest, driver-crew chief pairings in the history of NASCAR will end at the end of the 2018 season.

Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that Chad Knaus will move to the No. 24 team to become crew chief for driver William Byron.

Kevin Meendering will return to the organization to take over the crew chief duties for the No. 48 team. Darian Grubb, current crew chief for Byron will take over the role as technical director.

“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “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.”

Together Knaus and Johnson have won a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup championships together and this season competed in the series playoffs for a record 15th time. They have struggled the last two seasons however with Johnson finishing 10th in the season standings last season and elimination from title contention this season.

“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” 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.”

The team is also currently in the midst of a 53-race winless streak.

“Chad and I have had unimaginable success together and I’m grateful for his friendship” Johnson tweeted. “I can’t thank him enough for his dedication to success and the drive to win. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for the entire @TeamHendrick organization.”

Meendering is currently crew chief of NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff contender Elliott Sadler who drives for JR Motorsports, a Hendrick affiliated team.

Before his stint at JRM Meendering spent 16 years at Hendrick Motorsports beginning with a high-school internship in the chassis department. In 2008, he was named assistant engineer for the No. 24 team with Gordon and in 2011 became lead engineer for the No. 88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“Over the last couple of years, he’s been one of the most sought-after talents in the garage,” Hendrick said. “Kevin is an impressive person who came up in our organization and will hit the ground running on day one. We already know how well he works with our people and that he’s a respected, forward-thinking crew chief. Having worked with a veteran driver like Elliott Sadler for three years is extremely valuable experience. 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.”

After stints at Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, where he won a Cup title as crew chief for Tony Stewart, Grubb returned to Hendrick Motorsports in January 2016 as vehicle production director. He was promoted to director of competition systems in August 2017 before being named crew chief of the No. 24 team. Grubb holds a mechanical engineering degree from Virginia Tech.

“Darian has established himself as a respected leader in our company, and we’ve seen him thrive in an executive role,” Hendrick said. “We’ve identified opportunities for improvement, and we know having him step up to technical director will help move us forward in those areas. He’s a champion who brings a wealth of knowledge that will continue to benefit us.”

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.