Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, the most successful driver-crew chief duo in NASCAR history, lead a standout group of inductees entering the Hall of Fame on January 20, 2024. Joining them are driver Donnie Allison and broadcaster Mike Joy.
Johnson reflects on humble beginnings
Johnson burst onto the Cup Series scene in 2002 after years of off-road racing. Few expected the unknown Californian to achieve much success at NASCAR’s top level. But under the guidance of crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson quickly developed into a top driver. By 2006, he won his first of seven championships.
“I couldn’t have predicted any of this,” Johnson said during his Hall of Fame induction speech. “I just wanted to race. I felt like if I could get to the Cup Series and win a race, I made it.”
Johnson reflected on his rapid rise in early years with Hendrick Motorsports, crediting car owner Rick Hendrick for taking a chance on him.
“I’m so grateful to have driven the best cars with the best people early in my career,” he said. “It just shows that opportunities can be around any corner. You just have to be ready.”
Knaus paved unconventional route to glory
Like Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus took an unlikely path to Stock Car racing’s highest levels. Growing up in Rockford, Illinois, the NASCAR-obsessed Knaus convinced his parents to let him move to North Carolina in 1991 to pursue a racing career. He worked low-paying jobs while trying to break into the sport, even living out of his car at one point.
“I knew nobody was going to give me an opportunity for charity,” Knaus said. “I had to work for it.”
His diligence paid off in spectacular fashion. After linking up with Johnson in 2002, the pair won a record-tying seven titles and 83 races together over 17 seasons. The foundation was Knaus’ meticulous preparation and no-nonsense leadership style combined with Johnson’s raw talent and unrelenting drive to improve.
“We challenged each other and made each other better,” Johnson said of Knaus. “It was the perfect pairing at the perfect time.”
Emotional moments as legends cement legacies
Friday night’s ceremony offered many poignant moments as both inductees expressed gratitude to those who helped launch their careers. Allison thanked his family and fans, while Knaus got choked up recognizing his early mentors like Ray Evernham.
The sellout crowd saved its biggest cheers for Johnson and Knaus, widely considered the best driver-crew chief tandem ever. Their record of seven titles and over 80 wins seems unmatchable in the modern era. Both men got choked up at times reflecting on their incredible shared success.
“To be going into the Hall of Fame together, I can’t put this into words,” an emotional Johnson said. “Thanks for taking a chance on me, Chad.”
|Hall of Fame Class of 2024
With their legacies now permanently enshrined, attention turns to the future for Johnson and Knaus. Johnson continues racing part-time in the Cup Series while expanding his role as co-owner of Petty GMS Motorsports. He also enjoys spending more time with family after two decades of grinding as a title contender.
Meanwhile, Knaus transitions into an executive management role with Hendrick Motorsports as the team’s Vice President of Competition. He helps oversee all four HMS Cup programs after hands-on roles as a crew chief and director of competition in recent years.
Friday night belonged to celebrating the past. But for these all-time greats, more history could be on the horizon.
“I don’t know what my future holds,” Johnson said. “But I feel like I still have gas left in the tank. So let’s see what opportunities come next.”
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