A major milestone is the making for Chad Knaus, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning crew chief who is currently calling the shots for 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contender William Byron and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team. When the green flag waves in the upcoming Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, Knaus will reach 700 Cup races as a crew chief.
A native from Rockford, Illinois, Knaus worked with his father, John, in races across the Midwest as he was also a crew chief for his father, who competed for the Rockford Speedway title. Together, they won a Great Northern Series championship and finished as the runner-up contender in the NASCAR Winston Racing Series.
In 1991, Knaus relocated to North Carolina to pursue a career in NASCAR. After starting his stock car career working for owner/competitor Stanley Smith, he teamed up with Hendrick Motorsports and worked his way up from being a general fabricator to a chassis and body construction manager for five seasons and while being part of the No. 24 DUPONT/HMS team driven by Jeff Gordon and led by crew chief Ray Evernham. Knaus was also a rear tire changer for Gordon’s No. 24 team and he was a part of the 1995 and 1997 championship seasons with Gordon.
In 1998, Knaus moved to Dale Earnhardt Inc. and worked as a car chief for the team’s No. 1 car driven between Steve Park and Darrell Waltrip. He went on to work for Tyler Jet Motorsports and Melling Racing, where he led the Dodge development team and worked with Stacy Compton before he was promoted to crew chief for three races towards the conclusion of the 2000 season (two with Casey Atwood and one with Stacy Compton). For the 2001 Cup Series season, Knaus remained as a full-time crew chief for Compton. Throughout the 2001 season, Knaus achieved two poles and one top-10 result with Compton. He was also suspended for two races due to a seatbelt violation in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Compton failed to qualify for two races throughout the season.
In 2002, Knaus rejoined Hendrick Motorsports to serve as crew chief for El Cajon, California’s Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team. In their first run together, Johnson won the pole position for the 2002 Daytona 500 with a pole-winning lap at 185.831 mph. After finishing 15th at the Daytona 500 in February and recording six top-10 results in the following eight races, Johnson and Knaus both achieved their first Cup career win at Auto Club Speedway in April. Overall, Johnson and Knaus won three Cup races and four poles as they also achieved six top-five results and 21 top-10 results before they concluded the season in fifth place in the standings, though Johnson was beaten by Ryan Newman for the Rookie-of-the-Year title.
In 2003, Johnson’s sophomore season in the Cup Series, the combo achieved three victories, two poles, 14 top-five results and 20 top-10 results before concluding the season in the runner-up position in the final standings behind the champion Matt Kenseth. Following the 2003 season, Knaus surpassed 100 Cup starts as a crew chief. Throughout the following season, 2004, the combo recorded a season-high eight wins along with a pole, 20 top-five results and 23 top-10 results. Among the victories achieved between the two in 2004 included both Darlington races, both Pocono Raceway events, a second consecutive Coca-Cola 600 win, a win at Martinsville Speedway in October and a feel good victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway the following race and following a Hendrick Motorsports plane accident that claimed the lives of team owner Rick Hendrick’s son, two nieces, brother/president of HMS, lead engine builder, general manager, among others. Despite the victories and a productive junior season, Johnson and Knaus fell eight points shy of the title to Kurt Busch and veteran Jimmy Fennig.
In 2005, Johnson and Knaus achieved four victories, a pole, 13 top-five results and 22 top-10 results as they were the only Hendrick Motorsports team that had an opportunity to win the overall championship. During the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, however, Johnson wrecked just shy of the midway mark and he concluded the season in fifth place in the standings while Tony Stewart went on to win his second Cup title.
Knaus started off the 2006 season on a rough note after he was caught making an illegal adjustment to the rear window of Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, thus being suspended for the first four Cup races of the season while Darian Grubb served as Johnson’s interim crew chief. Following the first four races, where Johnson and Grubb won the Daytona 500 and at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Knaus returned atop the pit box at Bristol in March. They achieved their first victory of the season at Talladega Superspeedway in May followed by the All-Star Race at Charlotte’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August. Entering the postseason as a championship favorite, Johnson and Knaus, however, struggled during the first four races as they finished no nigher than 13th on track. They rallied at Charlotte in October as Johnson went on a five-race streak of finishing no worse than second place and picking up a win at Martinsville. After finishing in ninth place in the finale at Homestead in November, Johnson and Knaus achieved their first Cup championship by 56 points over Kenseth. With Knaus atop the pit box, Johnson won three races (five overall), one pole, 10 top-five results (13 overall) and 20 top-10 results (24 overall). By then, Knaus surpassed 200 Cup starts as a crew chief.
In 2007, Johnson and Knaus won a season-high 10 races, which included sweeping the pair of season races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and at Richmond Raceway. When the checkered flag waved in the finale at Homestead, Johnson finished in seventh place as he and Knaus achieved their second consecutive Cup championship following a season-long battle with teammates Jeff Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte. Knaus also rallied from being suspended for six races throughout the summer following an inspection issue involving the templates on Johnson’s car at Sonoma Raceway (an issue that was also noted on Gordon’s car and resulted in a six-race suspension for Letarte).
In 2008, Johnson, Knaus and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team rallied from a slow start to achieve seven victories, six poles, 15 top-five results and 22 top-10 results throughout the season. When the checkered flag waved in the finale at Homestead, Johnson finished in 15th place and earned his record-tying third consecutive NASCAR Cup Series championship by 69 points over Carl Edwards, who had won nine races throughout the season. While Johnson tied NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough in achieving three consecutive Cup championships and Hendrick Motorsports recorded its eighth overall title, Knaus made history as he became the first Cup crew chief in history to achieve three consecutive titles as he accomplished the feat in his eighth full-time season as a crew chief.
The winning dynasty between Johnson and Knaus, however, did not stop there as both achieved seven victories, four poles, 16 top-five results and 24 top-10 results throughout the 2009 Cup season. Following the finale at Homestead, where Johnson brought his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to a fifth-place result, he achieved his record-setting fourth consecutive Cup championship by 141 points over teammate/NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin. As a result, HMS achieved its ninth title while Knaus became the first crew chief to win four consecutive Cup titles. In addition, Knaus surpassed 300 starts as a crew chief.
Throughout the 2010 season, Johnson, Knaus and the No. 48 Lowe’s team achieved six victories, two poles, 17 top-five results and 23 top-10 results. Among the season highlights included winning for the first time at Bristol Motor Speedway and at Sonoma Raceway. Entering the finale at Homestead, they were trailing Denny Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford by 15 points. Following the finale, Johnson finished in second place and achieved his record-setting fifth consecutive Cup championship by 39 points over Hamlin, who finished 14th, and 41 over Kevin Harvick, who finished third. With Johnson’s accomplishment, Hendrick Motorsports achieved its 10th Cup title while Knaus became the first crew chief to win five consecutive Cup titles. In addition, Knaus surpassed Kirk Shelmerdine into second place on the all-time crew chief championship list in just his 10th season as a Cup crew chief.
In 2011, Johnson and Knaus achieved two victories (Talladega and Kansas), 14 top-five results and 21 top-10 results, but the results were not enough for both of them to extend their championship run to six consecutive years as they concluded the season in sixth place in the final standings. At the start of the 2012 season, Knaus was at the center of controversy when Johnson’s No. 48 car failed pre-race inspection prior to the Daytona 500. Initially fined $100,000, suspended for six races and Johnson docked 25 points, Knaus was later spared from the suspension and the points dock, though he was still fined. Despite winning five races throughout the 2012 season, including the All-Star Race at Charlotte, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at Darlington Raceway while recording the 200th Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports with Johnson, misfortunes during the final two races prevented Johnson and Knaus from winning their sixth title as Brad Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe and team owner Roger Penske went on to claim their first title. Following the 2012 season, Knaus surpassed 400 starts as a crew chief.
In 2013, which marked the debut of the Generation 6 stock car and the new Chevrolet SS, Johnson and Knaus started the season on a high note by winning the Daytona 500 in February. While Johnson achieved his second Daytona 500 title and Hendrick Motorsports achieved its seventh, Knaus achieved his first 500 title as a crew chief. The dominance between Johnson, Knaus and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team did not stop there as they went on to win six races, including the non-point All-Star Race. Among the records Johnson broke in 2013 included becoming the first four-time winner of the All-Star Race, winning his record eighth race at Dover and becoming the first Cup competitor to sweep Daytona since NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison made the last accomplishment in 1982. Johnson and Knaus also went on to achieve three poles, 16 top-five results and 24 top-10 results. When the checkered flag flew in the finale at Homestead, Johnson finished ninth and achieved his sixth Cup championship by 19 points over Kenseth. With Johnson and Knaus each achieving their sixth title and Hendrick Motorsports achieving its 11th overall, the talks about the driver and crew chief of the No. 48 team achieving an unprecedented seventh title began to circulate approaching the 2014 season.
From 2014 to 2015, Johnson and Knaus won a total of nine races (including their fourth Coca-Cola 600 victory and a first win at Michigan International Speedway) and two poles as they also achieved 25 top-five results and 42 top-10 results. During both seasons, however, Johnson was unable to compete for the championship as his best points result was a 10th-place result in 2015. Prior to the conclusion of the 2015 season, Knaus achieved 500 starts as a crew chief.
In 2016, which marked Johnson and Knaus’ 15th season of racing and working together with the No. 48 Lowe’s/HMS team, Johnson started the season by finishing 16th in the Daytona 500 before he won the following race at Atlanta and tied the late NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt on the all-time Cup wins list with 76 wins. Johnson achieved his second victory of the season at Auto Club Speedway in March and was consistent throughout the regular season to make the Playoffs. In October, Johnson won at Charlotte and transferred to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs for the first time in his career. He went on to win at Martinsville for the ninth time in his career and earn one of four spots to the Championship Round at Homestead in November with an opportunity to compete for the title. Throughout the finale, Johnson struggled and was behind his other three opponents (Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano) in the late stages. During the final 10 laps, however, Johnson benefitted on short-run speed, a late multi-car pileup involving Edwards and Logano, two late restarts and a two-lap shootout to win the finale and achieve his record-tying seventh Cup championship. Johnson’s accomplishment made him the third competitor to achieve seven Cup titles alongside Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt while Hendrick Motorsports achieved its 12th title. In addition, Knaus and Johnson tied Richard Petty and Dale Inman in achieving the most Cup championships by a driver-crew chief combo as Knaus moved himself in being one title shy of tying Inman for the most titles at eight.
The following season, 2017, Johnson won three races, including his 11th victory at Dover and his seventh triumph at Texas Motor Speedway, and he recorded four top-five results and 11 top-10 results. Though he and Knaus made the Playoffs, their hopes for a record-setting eighth championship came to an end in the penultimate event of the season at Phoenix after Johnson wrecked and finished 39th. They went on to conclude the season in 10th place in the final standings. By then, Knaus surpassed 600 starts as a Cup crew chief.
In 2018, Johnson and Knaus went winless for the first in their racing careers as Johnson only achieved two top-five results and 11 top-10 results before concluding the season in 14th place in the final standings.
Following a 17-year run with Johnson that included winning seven championships and 81 Cup career wins, Knaus moved over from the No. 48 team to the No. 24 team to serve as crew chief for William Byron, the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and the reigning Cup Rookie-of-the-Year recipient. In their first race paired together, Byron recorded the pole position for the 2019 Daytona 500 after he and his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet posted a pole-winning speed at 194.305 mph. The accomplishment made between Byron and Knaus allowed Hendrick Motorsports to achieve its fifth consecutive Daytona 500 pole and the qualifying session was capped off with an HMS front row sweep for the main event as Alex Bowman and crew chief Greg Ives earned the other front row spot. Ironically, Byron’s first career pole at Daytona mirrored Johnson’s first career pole for the 500, both of which came under Knaus’ leadership.
Byron and Knaus started off the Daytona 500 with a 21st-place after Byron was involved in a late accident. After finishing no higher than 15th place the following five races, they achieved their first top-10 result at Texas Motor Speedway in April (sixth place). Their next top-10 result came at Dover in May, where Byron finished eighth. During the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, Byron edged Bubba Wallace by a nose to transfer to his first All-Star Race appearance. Byron’s accomplishment allowed Knaus to extend his All-Star Race appearance to 18 consecutive seasons while the No. 24 car made its return to the main event following a one-year absence. Byron went on to finish ninth place in the All-Star event. The following two points races (Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and at Pocono Raceway), Byron started on pole position and finished ninth. The combo went on to achieve five additional top-10 results, including a career-best second place at Daytona in July and a fourth-place run at Indianapolis in September, to qualify for the 2019 Cup Playoffs. For the remaining 10 races of this season, Byron, Knaus and the No. 24 team achieved four top-10 results, including another runner-up result at Martinsville in October, before they concluded the season in 11th place in the final standings and after being eliminated from title contention following the second round in the Playoffs. Overall, Byron achieved five poles, five top-five results and 13 top-10 results in his sophomore Cup season.
The combo started this season by winning the second Duel race at Daytona to line in fourth place for the Daytona 500, but they finished in last place of the 40-car field after being involved in a single-car wreck past the one-quarter mark of the race. Through the first 25 regular-season races together and despite being absent at Kansas Speedway while he and his wife Brooke were anticipating the birth of their daughter in July, Byron and Knaus have achieved one top-five result and seven top-10 results.
Entering the regular-season finale at Daytona, they were four points above the top-16 cutline ahead of teammates Jimmie Johnson and Cliff Daniels in their bid to make this year’s Playoffs. When the checkered flag flew, Byron was able to hold off the field and claim his first Cup career win in his 98th series start. While he recorded his first victory, Knaus claimed his 82nd Cup career win and first since June 2017 at Dover. The win at Daytona guaranteed the No. 24 team into the Playoffs as Knaus made his 17th consecutive postseason appearance as a title contender.
Byron and Knaus are coming off a fifth-place result in last Sunday’s Playoff opener at Darlington Raceway. They are ranked in ninth place in the Playoff standings and are nine points above the top-12 cutline in an effort to qualify for the second round in the Cup Playoffs.
Catch crew chief Chad Knaus’ milestone start at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.