While the end of his long association with Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 has obviously grabbed the most attention, Chad Knaus says his new assignment has given him a boost of enthusiasm. The Hendrick Motorsports veteran broke out into a smile and rubbed his arm in reference to the goosebumps he feels when thinking about being the next crew chief of the No. 24 team.
“You have no idea, I’m so geeked up by it,” Knaus said.
Knaus, of course, has previous ties to that team. In the 1990s, Knaus was a member of the renowned “Rainbow Warriors” pit crew for Jeff Gordon. A tire changer during two of Gordon’s championship seasons (1995 and ’97), Knaus also handled other duties under the mentorship of Ray Evernham.
Beginning next season, Knaus will guide the No. 24 team with driver William Byron.
“I started here in 1993 and in 1993 when I walked in the door, and I started to work in that little shop up on the hill when we had about 14 full-time employees … I wanted to be crew chief on the No. 24 car,” Knaus continued. “It’s only taken me 25 years and 17 years with this guy [Jimmie Johnson] to get the opportunity to be able to do that. I’m really proud of that.
“I’m excited. We had DuPont, which is now Axalta, on the No. 24 car back then. I’m going to the No. 24 car with Axalta, which was DuPont. Jeff [Gordon] was 21 years old, William’s going to be 21 next year. It’s a really neat thing. I’m stoked. I really am.”
Johnson said Knaus would build up Byron just as Knaus did him throughout their 17 years together. Knaus does not plan on being Byron’s crew chief that long but was very complimentary of the 2017 Xfinity Series champion, and the “boatload” of talent Knaus said he has.
Knaus compared the opportunity to work with Byron to being paired with Johnson in 2002. The only difference is that Knaus and Johnson had not proven themselves when the No. 48 team formed, whereas Byron is already a champion and has won in both the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series.
“Again, I’m an old racer guy, but I’m totally geeked to be crew chief on the No. 24 car,” Knaus said. “I’m not lying when I said that when I started here, I was like, ‘Man, I want to be crew chief on that 24 car.’ I always wanted to be Jeff Gordon’s crew chief. I didn’t make that happen, but I was at least crew chief for his team and for his car number.”
Byron used the word “blessing” when asked how lucky he feels getting to work with someone of Knaus’ caliber. The two already have an established relationship, and Byron said he has worked with others who have similar traits to Knaus.
Being paired together means Byron knows Knaus will push him to be better. And the two are alike in ways such as attention to detail and being Type A personalities.
“I don’t like excuses, so that will fit well,” said Byron. “I feel like going into my second year, I’ve learned the ropes of the Cup Series, and I can go out, and our goal is to win.”
Winning is second nature to Knaus and all of Hendrick Motorsports, and he doesn’t see that changing as the company goes forward.
“I fully expect [Johnson] to win races with Kevin [Meendering],” said Knaus. “I fully expect it and I fully expect William and I to win races. That is the reason we’re doing this.”