By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
In the midst of a frustrating season and Lowe’s leaving at the end of the 2018 season, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus, the main man who has made the calls since his rookie season in 2002, will continue in his role through 2020 as reported in a Saturday press conference at Kentucky Speedway.
Knaus told the media that his contract extension had recently been made, and despite the duo being winless in 41 races, he’s never questioned leaving Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports.
“No, not really. Obviously, Jimmie (Johnson) and I have a, although going through a bit of a slump right now, we have a great time racing together,” said Knaus. “We have a long relationship and enjoyed everything 48. So, no not really it was pretty easy.”
Johnson currently sits 12th in points with only 12 laps led (10 of those coming from last Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona), two top-fives and six top-10 finishes.
If the playoffs were to start today, he’ll be the 14th seed, edging Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who would be the first man outside the top-16, by 57 points.
However, those low numbers, amid concern of missing the playoffs for the first time, hasn’t diminished Knaus’ competitive nature this season, but it doesn’t mean the drought has enhanced his motivation.
“I wouldn’t say one way or the other. Obviously, I’m a very competitive person and if we go three weeks without winning I’m frustrated. It’s just a matter of going out there and competing. I love to compete,” Knaus added. “The winless streak right now, yeah although it’s not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination it is where we are. It’s our reality right now and we’ve got to fight through it.”
Without Lowe’s, Johnson’s only primary sponsor he’s ever driven since making his Cup debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 2001, Knaus said the search for sponsorship in 2019 and beyond, had little impact on whether he’ll stay at Hendrick, and is looking forward contributing in the process to keep the seven-time champion afloat.
“Yeah of course. I mean I wouldn’t want to say this that it was a big determining factor it was just time. The time for the contract was expiring and time to get it set up again with Mr. Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports,” said Knaus. “The sponsorship thing, obviously this shows that we have stability between Jimmie and I moving forward which I think is obviously appealing to anybody as we are going to battle and vying for our eighth title. I think anybody would be foolish not to want to be on board with that.”
Since leaving Melling Racing for Rick Hendrick at the end of 2001, Knaus has been the top man for Johnson in 586 of 597 starts, leading Johnson to 81 of his 83 career wins, 35 poles, 219 top-fives, and 341 top-10 finishes (58.2%).
Now in their 17th season together, Knaus said part of the reason why they’ve stayed together this long, where driver-crew chief combinations of this longevity are rare, has a lot to do with Johnson’s patience and their bond off the track.
“It probably has a lot to do with Jimmie’s patience. He is a very tolerant individual (laughs). I think that has a lot to do with it, but I think Jimmie and I we have gotten to the point where we really understand one another,” said Knaus. “There is not a big question on the effort or the amount of effort that is going in from one side nor the other. We deeply care for one another obviously, families, daughters, and I have a son coming, so we have grown a lot together through life and I think that has a lot to do with it.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will begin their second half of the season in the Quaker State 400, Johnson will start 27th and will look to win at the 1.5-mile circuit for the first time.