By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – After 17 seasons together, Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway was the closing of a chapter in Jimmie Johnson’s career as it marked the final race that he and crew chief Chad Knaus would be paired up and the final time that Lowe’s would serve as the primary sponsor on the No. 48 Chevrolet.
To commemorate the end of an era, Johnson’s car was decked out in the same Lowe’s paint scheme he sported back during his rookie season, his uniform matched the one he wore back then, and his helmet paid tribute to the accomplishments that he and Knaus have had together.
Johnson, known for sporting a beard in recent years, instead went with a clean-shaven look, matching his appearance when he first started at NASCAR’s highest level.
Since first joining forces in 2002, Johnson and Knaus, with Lowe’s ever-present on their car, have been an unstoppable force, winning 83 races and a record-tying seven championships together. No doubt Hall of Fame caliber numbers.
“It’s tough, man,” said Johnson. “When you think about the relationship with Lowe’s, hate to see that come to an end. 17-18 years, really, when you look at my first three races that I ran for them. Everything we accomplished together, their belief in me, and the company’s support of me and this team over the years.”
When the checkered flag fell, it meant the turning of a page for all involved as Johnson would have a new crew chief next season, Knaus would have a new driver, and Johnson’s car would have a new sponsor for the first time since 2002.
Though they will be parting ways amidst the longest winless streak of Johnson’s career and the first winless year of his career, the strong bond that he and Knaus formed will always be remembered as one of the best driver-crew chief pairings in the sport’s history.
As soon as Johnson exited his car following his 14th place finish, he gathered the crew and they raised a toast to the stellar career that they have enjoyed together.
“With Chad, it’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with, but he’s my brother. There’s just no way around it.
“I made sure we had a cooler of beer just to have one quick beer with the guys and Chad and a big toast to say thank you.”
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To say that this season was a struggle would be an understatement as Johnson ended the season with only two top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes, and a 14th place points result.
“In my Cup career, that’s probably the most difficult year I’ve had,” Johnson continued. “I can look back at some other years where I had different challenges of not having a sponsor or maybe not having a ride and dealing with adversity there, but as far as having a fully funded high quality ride, 2018 was by far the toughest.”
The two will now turn their focus toward 2019, with Johnson teaming up with Kevin Meendering and Knaus heading up William Byron’s No. 24 team. Johnson was quick to note the work ahead for both his team and Hendrick Motorsports as a whole to get back on top.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do as a company,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do with my new team. We’ve got a lot of work to do with this new package and we’ve got to come out and be stronger…New sponsor, new crew chief, whole new rules package, you know, 2019 is going to be a clean start for myself and this No. 48 team.”