Call them inseparable.
Despite a few rough patches in their 17-year working relationship, driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus achieved a level of success at NASCAR’s highest level unparalleled in the current century.
Together, on Friday night in the Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center, Johnson and Knaus reaped the rewards of their remarkable accomplishments—induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2024 in their first year of eligibility.
Johnson and Knaus entered the Hall along with Donnie Allison, elected to NASCAR’s highest honor from the Pioneer Ballot. An original member of the famed Alabama Gang, Allison helped elevate stock car racing’s visibility with both his driving skills and his fists.
Johnson earned high praise from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who lobbied on Johnson’s behalf when team owner Rick Hendrick considered adding a fourth team in 2002.
“He’s the best driver I ever raced against,” Gordon said in a video introducing his teammate.
In his acceptance speech, Johnson demurred with typical modesty, opening his remarks with a story about the motorcycle he found under the Christmas tree in 1979.
“I realize how many people played a role in this Hall of Fame induction,” Johnson said later in the speech. “Thank you to my family, friends, fans—everyone at Jimmie Johnson Racing, former team members and teammates, everyone who has been part of this journey.
“This success story of seven championships and 83 wins, and now this, is all about relationships. I’m truly grateful for the journey and the amazing relationships forged and the incredible companies I’ve represented like Lowe’s and Ally.
“Whether on two wheels or four, in SoCal or Charlotte, in the driver’s seat or up on top of the pit box, moonlighting as race car mechanic or driving a school bus (as his parents did), whether you’re looking up to your heroes, driving for them or competing against them… if you’re with us now or up in heaven, thank you for being a crucial part of this incredible run.
“This is beyond my wildest dreams—and I thought Christmas morning in 1979 was special.”
Johson reserved special praise for his teammate and team owner.
“I’m forever grateful to Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick,” Johnson said after receiving the Hall of Fame ring from his wife Chani. “You guys selected me for the No. 48 car, and I’m still not sure why.”
“Congrats, brother,” Johnson said to Knaus. “I’m so glad that we’re able to go in on the same ballot.”
After Tony Stewart won the 2005 series title, Johnson embarked on a remarkable run, claiming a record five straight championships from 2006 through 2010—a streak broken only by Stewart’s unexpected third title in 2011.
The pairing of Johnson and Knaus almost ended before the streak began. At the end of the 2005 season, they were barely speaking, and team owner Rick Hendrick considered splitting them up.
Before making a decision, Hendrick invited Johnson and Knaus to a meeting and served them milk and cookies on Mickey Mouse plates.
“If you’re going to act like children, I’m going to treat you like children,” was Hendrick’s blunt message to his driver and crew chief.
Hendrick made his point, and with the ice broken, the pair became NASCAR’s version of the “Untouchables” for the next five years.
“That shift allowed us to become champions,” Knaus said.
The five straight Cup championships eclipsed NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough’s previous mark of three straight (1976-1978) and is one entry in the NASCAR record book that likely will remain unassailable. With two non-consecutive titles each, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the only active full-time Cup drivers with more than one.
Johnson added championships in 2013 and 2016, tying the record of seven held jointly by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., both members of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2010. He won his last Cup race—a track-record 11th victory at Dover Motor Speedway—on June 4, 2017, marking the 16th consecutive year he and Knaus had teamed to win at least two events.
That victory was Johnson’s 83rd, tying him with Yarborough for sixth on the career list. The book on Johnson’s career, however, is not quite closed. As co-owner of NASCAR Cup Series entry Legacy Motor Club, he will compete in select races this season, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.
Knaus’s wife Brooke presented the 2024 inductee ring to her husband.
“As I was growing up in the Midwest, my father taught me what it meant to have the best race cars,” Knaus said during his induction speech, “to have the proper maintenance schedule, to never settle for second and to continuously learn—and to always push the rules.”
Thanking his driver of 17 years, Knaus said, “Jimmie let me find out who I was by believing in me.”
A brilliant innovator dedicated to making Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets go faster, Knaus manned the pit box for 81 of Johnson’s 83 Cup wins, having been sidelined under suspension for the first two victories of 2006 for pushing the rules too far in trying to gain an aerodynamic advantage at Daytona.
After the Johnson/Knaus pairing ended following the 2018 season, Knaus served as crew chief for William Byron’s first career victory in the summer 2020 race at Daytona. In 2021, Knaus took on a management role as vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports.
From a career standpoint, Knaus’s seven championships as a crew chief are second only to NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman’s eight. His 82 victories are third all-time.
Allison and brother Bobby Allison accumulated the second-most Cup victories by two brothers (94), a number exceeded only by Kyle and Kurt Busch, who have accounted for 97 wins (with Kyle still active at 63).
Donnie Allison earned his greatest notoriety, however, after he had won the last of his 10 races (1978 at Atlanta). He and Yarborough were battling for the lead on the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500, the first race featuring live flag-to-flag coverage on national network television, and after repeated contact between their cars, they both wrecked at the end of the backstretch.
The drivers climbed from their cars with anger in their eyes and started the fight that would captivate the television audience with its intensity. After Richard Petty inherited the victory, Bobby Allison parked his car near in Turn 3 and joined the fray, as the Alabama drivers ganged up on the South Carolinian.
The race and the fisticuffs that followed sparked interest in the sport of stock car racing and launched the sport’s steady growth over the next two decades.
Allison is the fourth member of the Alabama Gang to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame, joining brother Bobby, nephew Davey Allison and Hueytown patriarch Red Farmer.
Asked what the induction meant to him, Donnie replied, “The closest thing was the feeling I got when I married my lovely wife Pat.”
Allison was the 1967 Cup rookie of the year. He also turned heads with a fourth-place finish in the 1970 Indianapolis 500, earning rookie-of-the-year honors for the race.
“All I can say is wow!” Allison said during his induction speech, during which, with tongue in cheek, he disputed the characterization of his altercation with Yarborough in 1979. “Fought? I never fought… I never touched that man. He never touched me…”
During the ceremony, pioneering driver Janet Guthrie was honored as the recipient of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR. An accomplished sports car racer, Guthrie finished 15th in her NASCAR Cup debut in the 1976 Coca-Cola 600 and went on to compete in 33 Cup races, with a best finish of sixth at Bristol.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace received the Buddy Shuman Award for his charitable endeavors. Also recognized at the ceremony were two titans of the sport who passed away in 2023—broadcaster Ken Squier, co-founder of the Motor Racing Network, and Yarborough.
It was Squier, providing play-by-play for the 1979 Daytona 500 for CBS, who called the fight against Yarborough that Allison insists never really happened.
Squier’s legacy also extends to the Squier-Hall Award of Media Excellence, conferred on the late Shav Glick of the Los Angeles Times this year.
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