TALLADEGA, Ala. – Almost from the day he arrived at Hendrick Motorsports 25 years ago, Chad Knaus had a specific ambition. He wanted to be crew chief on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet.
Only one problem: Ray Evernham had the job. So Knaus began his association with the No. 24 team as a fabricator. He also changed rear tires for Gordon as an original member of the vaunted Rainbow Warriors pit crew and was part of Gordon’s championship teams in 1995 and 1997.
After subsequent stints with Dale Earnhardt Inc., Tyler Jet Motorsports and Melling Racing, Knaus returned to Hendrick in 2002 as crew chief for a largely untested rookie named Jimmie Johnson.
In the 17 years that have followed, Johnson has won 83 races—most among active drivers—and a record-tying seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships under a variety of postseason formats. The five straight titles accumulated by Johnson and Knaus from 2006 through 2010 likely constitute an unassailable mark.
At the end of the 2018 season, however, the partnership between Johnson and Knaus will end. Johnson will get a new crew chief—Kevin Meendering. Knaus will finally a get his shot as crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet, but not with Jeff Gordon, who has left the driver’s seat for the TV booth.
Knaus will call the shots for William Byron, a 20-year-old Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender this season. Byron’s current crew chief, Darian Grubb, has been promoted to an executive position in the competition end of the Hendrick organization.
“It’s exciting for me—it really is,” Knaus said. “I’m an old racer guy, but I’m totally geeked to be crew chief on the No. 24 car. I’m not lying when I said that, when I started here, I was like, ‘Man, I want to be crew chief on that No. 24 car.’
“I always wanted to be Jeff Gordon’s crew chief. I didn’t make that happen, but I (will be) at least crew chief for his team and for his car number.”
Knaus ticked off similarities between Gordon’s situation in 1993 and Byron’s next year.
“We had sponsor DuPont which is now Axalta on the No. 24 car back then,” Knaus said. “I’m going to the No. 24 car with Axalta, which was DuPont. Jeff was 21-years-old. William’s going to be 21-years-old next year.
“It’s a really neat thing. I’m stoked. I really am. I’m sad that this chapter (with Johnson) is… It’s not over. I mean you can’t, what people think, ‘The era’s over…’ You can’t erase what we’ve done. It’s not over. It’s going to live forever.”