Going to victory lane Saturday night at Daytona was a first for Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron. In his third full season, Byron finally broke through for that elusive win at an opportune time to earn his spot in the playoffs.
But winning isn’t new to crew chief Chad Knaus. For Knaus, it is his 82nd win at the NASCAR Cup Series level. Although to be selfish for a moment, there was something about Daytona that was as big for him as it was for Byron.
“I wanted to get to victory lane with a car number, as a crew chief, without Jimmie Johnson on top of the door,” said Knaus. “Nothing against Jimmie or any of that, but just to do it. To see if I could accomplish it. We’ve come close, we’ve had some really solid runs with the 24 car, not as many this year as we’d have liked to have had, but to be able to do this really means a lot.
“And to be able to bring this team into the playoffs again, I think that last year we performed pretty well. I’m really excited about the playoffs this year; I think we have some racetracks coming up that we’ll run competitive, and I’m excited about that. We’ll see how it goes.”
Knaus was the crew chief for 81 of Johnson’s wins. The two worked together for 17 years before splitting at the end of 2018.
Byron winning was a “long time coming,” said Knaus. Last season, the duo earned 13 top-10 finishes and ended the year 11th in the standings. It was a big step forward for Byron, and now he has a win on his resume.
The emotions of winning that Knaus felt for the very first time back in 2002 is what he’s watching Byron and his team experience now. Knaus said there are a handful of members on the No. 24 team who had never won a Cup Series race before.
“For me, it’s quite honestly probably a little bit more of a relief than maybe the elation of victory,” said Knaus. “I’ll be honest with you, I really wanted to get to victory lane with this 24 car again, and to be able to it with the legacy that Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham started with this car at Hendrick Motorsports. To be able to get it back in victory lane, follow suit with what Chase was able to do in the 24 car, and then now to put William’s name up there is a really special thing. It’s a lot of pressure, but I feel really happy about it and definitely a lot of relief.”
Relief for Knaus for more than one reason.