NASCAR Cup Series

Phoenix Raceway Marks End of an Era for Hendrick Motorsports

By: Ashley McCubbin

Although the focus this weekend will be on Chase Elliott for Hendrick Motorsports, you also cannot forget about the other big storyline surrounding the organization. The 2020 finale will mark the last race of Jimmie Johnson’s full-time NASCAR Cup Series career before moving on to NTT IndyCar Series competition, while marking Chad Knaus’ last race as a crew chief.

Johnson has spent his entire Cup Series career with Hendrick Motorsports through the 18 seasons of competition, dating back to his first career victory at Auto Club Speedway in 2002. Since then, he has amassed 82 more victories and take home the championship on seven occasions, tying him for the most all-time with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

“I try to be like Jimmie Johnson every day,” Chase Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “He’s a really amazing individual, competitor. To think about one thing, it’s hard to say. But I think his tenacity, his never‑say‑die attitude is probably the biggest thing.”

Gustafson had accepted advice from Johnson on occasions, including sharing a story at Kansas Speedway about staying focus and determined.

Nigel Kinrade | Nigel Kinrade Photography

“He said one of the biggest lessons he learned in his career, he started the Chase off really bad, I don’t know if they had crashes or DNF’s, thought they were out of it. He started racing with reckless abandon and ultimately won that championship,” Gustafson recalled. “He was just describing the fact that you’re never out of it and you’ve got to race every race like it’s your last. That stuck with me for a long time. It was a great lesson. That’s something that I’ll remember. I think his tenacity, just never‑say‑die attitude, his willingness to just cut loose and race as hard as he can race.”

Through those seasons, Chad Knaus spent 16 of those as Johnson’s crew chief with the pair securing 81 victories together and the aforementioned championships. He then spent the last two years with William Byron, winning at Daytona International Speedway in July.

Knaus will remain with Hendrick Motorsports after this season, though spending his time off the road in the shop as the new Vice President of Competition. He will be responsible for overseeing the technical development of Hendrick Motorsports’ entire stable of Chevrolet race cars, including its implementation of NASCAR’s 2022 “Next Gen” vehicle.

“I think he leaves behind probably one of the greatest that will ever sit on top a pit box from his wins and accomplishments,” current Vice President of Competition Jeff Andrews. “I think for us, the people that work day in and day out with Chad, I mean, he’s an extremely strong leader. He has thrived at putting a young group of guys together, young drivers, putting a goal in front of them, building a true team environment. That’s something that Chad is really, really good at, in motivating his guys.

“From our perspective, we hate to lose that depth on top of the pit box, kind of that strength in building a team. But certainly that’s a trait that he’s going to bring to us out in the shops, putting groups together, making our group in the shop and making our competition group stronger, getting them focused, getting better racecars at the end of the day to Alan and the teams to go race with.”

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