FOX NASCAR Insider
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was a transition line in Jimmie Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction speech that said it all.
“And then I met Chad.”
Johnson and Chad Knaus enjoyed an honor of a lifetime, sharing the stage Friday night with driver Donnie Allison as members of the 2024 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class.
There’d be no driver Johnson without crew chief Knaus. There’d be no crew chief Knaus without driver Johnson.
“We spent a lot of time together and became great friends,” Johnson said. “We could read each other’s minds. He somehow vividly would understand what I was going through behind a laptop.
“His work ethic and ability to bring the best out of me was most impressive.”
In their 17-year driver-crew chief working relationship where Johnson drove with Knaus in charge of his team, the Hendrick Motorsports driver won 83 times (including two races where Knaus was suspended). Their five consecutive championships from 2006-2010 ranks as a record unlikely to be broken.
They won several big events, including the 2006 and 2013 Daytona 500s, four Brickyard 400s, four Coke 600s, four all-star races and two Southern 500s.
But beyond all the trophies and championships, they taught each other about life and winning. And so it was no surprise that many at their induction ceremony Friday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame mentioned them acting like “brothers” — brothers who love each other while also occasionally having a brutally honest spat.
“Jimmie helped me find out who I was by honestly believing in me,” Knaus said during his induction speech. “Being in each other’s weddings, being some of the first to meet each other’s children, Jimmie, you have taught me there is much more to life than racing, even if it has taken me many, many years to understand that.
“I wasn’t always the best of Jimmie, but I can always promise I wanted the best for you.”
Their success had the respect of virtually everyone in the garage.
“Any driver in the field would have loved to work with Chad,” said NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., a teammate to Johnson and Knaus for several years, prior to Friday’s ceremony. “Every driver in the field would have loved to have known what his approach was and some of the things he was doing to make his cars work.”
Johnson will ride a 133-race winless streak into the upcoming Daytona 500 as he still seeks his first victory for a team not led by Knaus. After three winless seasons (one with Knaus and then two more after their professional breakup) and a two-year “retirement” from NASCAR where he raced in IndyCar, Johnson ran a few races last year as he assumed a co-ownership role in Legacy Motor Club. He has nine races planned this year.
NASCAR requires a driver to be retired for three years prior to induction, but the definition of retired is subjective. NASCAR’s committee that determines eligibility and the nominees for the voting panel determined that Johnson was eligible to be inducted in the 2024 class.
“Jimmie was a very fortunate guy to be able to be behind that race car,” Earnhardt said. “Jimmie went out there and got the job done. He was non-controversial, didn’t make mistakes off the race track, had a great personality and did a great job all the way through.
“He’s still today a big asset today and big asset to the sport as an owner and behind the wheel.”
Their success didn’t just spawn generations of fans. It also created many aspiring drivers.
“I’m excited to see it any time you get to celebrate the history of our sport [and] the modern era,” said William Byron, who was a Johnson fan growing up and won six Cup races last year driving for Hendrick. “The dominance that they had. … Jimmie and Chad are still both doing something in the sport.”
They have certainly left their mark.
“Congrats brother,” Johnson said during his induction speech. “I’m so happy we were able to go in tonight on the same ballot. I truly miss those days and all the amazing people we worked with.”
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.
Get more from NASCAR Cup Series Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more