Jimmie Johnson details what went wrong with Chad Knaus

Chad Knaus collected 82 NASCAR wins as a crew chief, 81 of them were with Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson joined the NASCAR Cup Series full-time in 2002. By 2006, he won his first championship.

From there, Chad Knaus and the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team guided Johnson to five consecutive championships between 2016-2010. That was followed by another in 2013.

Johnson’s name and career are forever tied to another name, Chad Knaus. Similar to Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon, the two built a powerhouse around them.

Yet, around 2013, Johnson and Knaus began to drift apart and steer in different directions. It eventually led to their separation following the 2018 season.

Johnson remained in NASCAR for 2019 and 2020 before retiring from full-time competition. Now, he’s reflecting on the dream combination and what went wrong between the two.

“Our hunger together, was unmatched,” Jimmie Johnson said of his longtime crew chief Chad Knaus. “We changed the sport.”

“At Hendrick, we had the resources to test all the time. And, Chad and I literally would. It made our team and communication better. That was our sauce. We would test and try, over and over.”

Private testing was banned for all NASCAR teams in 2015.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus
Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus (Photo: Hendrick Motorsports)

What went wrong between Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus?

“The mistake we both made, at the end of our time together was maybe not evolving enough within our relationship, to the new us. When times got tough, Chad reverted back to the crew chief he was when we first started.” He clarified that Chad was, “Micromanaging, explaining where I was making mistakes and how I needed to work on it.”

“That was kind of the start of the decay over a 5-8 year period of time. He and I both wish we could go back and correct that. Looking back on it, it was only a defense mechanism for him and he was only doing it because he cared.”

“I just got tired of hearing it. So, I started firing back. In the car, while racing, instead of focusing on the job I would start think about what the hell I was going to say to him.”

“People would say, ‘How the hell do you let him talk to you like that?’ “

“But, the relationship we had, it was just the brutal truth. Even though it pissed me off at times, that brutal honesty is what made us get better.”

“Just at the end, if we could have handled it in a different way with one-another, we could have stayed together through the end of our careers and potentially got the 8.”

NASCAR driver and crew chief visit a therapist

Essentially, Johnson and Knaus went to couples therapy. It worked, for awhile.

“It was very little reflection or finger pointing.” Johnson added, “It was like, ‘It’s a mess. This is how we’re going to get better. “

“As far back as 2013 is when we really had some professional help. It got us to winning a championship in 2016 and then it kinda unraveled from there.”

“But, it was a big help. A lot of thing learned in that moment have helped me, just in life, in general. I always thought there was ‘Work Jimmie’ and ‘Home Jimmie’, I quickly realized, we are who we are.”

The fracture point

In 2016, Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup Series championship. He tied the series record at 7 with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

Johnson went on vacation to Aspen ahead of the 2017 season.

“It really got under Chad’s skin that I wanted to be in Aspen and not in Charlotte. Things started to get personal then. Him questioning my heart and my time and effort with the team was really the starting fracture point.”

Now, Jimmie Johnson is running a mixed schedule in INDYCAR and IMSA. Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus both play a role on the IMSA side.

“It’s come full circle,” Johnson added.

Johnson has collected 83 wins in 686 starts. Knaus has collected 82 wins as a crew chief, 81 of them were with Jimmie Johnson as the driver.

Jimmie Johnson talks Chad Knaus

Jimmie Johnson | Hendrick Motorsports | NASCAR