Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson had his Chevrolet out front for 76 laps, but instead of celebrating his fifth win at the 1.5-mile track, it was Brad Keselowski earning the victory, his first in 33 races.
Johnson lost the lead when Keselowski, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon stayed out while the rest of the lead pack pitted on Lap 218. The No. 48 wouldn’t get back to the top three until right before taking the checkered flag.
“It was just real hard to get there and get inside of somebody,” Johnson said. “I was impressed (Keselowski) was able to sit behind (Logano) that long and finally get by and not wear his stuff out in the process.”
While Keselowski caught up to Kyle Busch and grabbed the lead, Johnson didn’t reach Busch until he had fallen back to third, a position Johnson claimed just before the start-finish line. It gave Johnson his sixth top-three finish at LVMS in 15 starts.
It was his first top five at the track since 2012.
“The series of events leading up to that last restart (on Lap 233) kind of had us deeper in track position than we needed to be for the win,” Johnson said. “We still got a third, which is good, but those top three or four cars were pretty equal.”
If they weren’t equal in performance, they were on a level playing field when it came to racing against the elements. The day was plagued by strong winds, which sent trash flying across the track at times and late in the race caused a dust storm.
“It was gusty and problematic, but I expected it to be a lot worse,” Johnson said. “I guess when you are going 200 mph a 30 or 40 mph wind doesn’t bother it too much.”
Chad Knaus, whose success as a crew chief is nearly unparalleled in NASCAR, will step down from that role after this season and move into a leadership position at Hendrick Motorsports, the team announced Tuesday.
Knaus will become vice president of competition. He will oversee technical development for Hendrick Motorsports, including implantation of the Next Gen car in 2022. He also will be responsible for personnel for each of the four teams, including crew chiefs, pit crews, engineering, fabrication, assembly and other team-related staff.
Knaus won seven championships as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief. Only Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman won more titles. Inman won eight, scoring seven with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte. Knaus has 82 career Cup wins. All but one came with Johnson. William Byron scored his first career Cup win in August at Daytona with Knaus as his crew chief. Byron was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The 49-year-old Knaus is the only crew chief to have competed in NASCAR’s postseason all 17 years.
“When I started at Hendrick Motorsports (in 1993) working for Ray Evernham, my goal was to be a crew chief,” Knaus said in a statement from the team. “Starting at a young age, I wanted to win every race we entered and battle for every championship.
“Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has given me the chance to do exactly that, and I could not be more thankful to him. After all these years, my competitive desire has not changed at all, but now I have a family that deserves my attention. This new executive role will allow me to compete in a different way with all four of our teams while spending more time with my wife and two young children.
“I appreciate the company supporting my decision, and I’m truly excited about the challenge ahead of me to help us grow and win. I’m also looking forward to working closely with Jeff (Andrews), who I admire and have great respect for. I owe so much to Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, and I’m ready for the next chapter.”
A new crew chief for Byron will be announced at a later date.
“In life, it’s rare to witness true excellence first-hand, but that’s precisely what we’ve been treated to with Chad,” Hendrick said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is bittersweet because, in my opinion, he is the finest crew chief our sport has ever seen.
“Although we’re going to miss him atop the pit box, I’m heartened that Chad has made this decision for himself and his growing family and that he is energized about the opportunity to move us forward in a new capacity. There is no one with higher standards or a stronger passion for winning. He will continue to elevate Hendrick Motorsports and instill his championship mentality throughout the company.”
Knaus served two races as crew chief for Casey Atwood in 2000 and then did one race for Stacy Compton that season. In 2001, Knaus was paired with Compton. Knaus rejoined Hendrick Motorsports to be Johnson’s crew chief in 2002. They remained together until 2019 when Knaus moved to Byron’s team.
Knaus will report to Andrews, 55, who has been promoted to executive vice president and general manager, effective immediately.
Andrews joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 and most recently served as vice president of competition. He had held that role since 2017.
Previously, Andrews held a leadership position in the team’s engine department, including director of engine operations. In his expanded role, Andrews will oversee all competition-related departments, including powertrain, manufacturing and racing operations. He will continue to support the organization’s technical relationship with Chevrolet and remain its primary liaison with NASCAR’s competition group. Andrews reports to Hendrick Motorsports president Marshall Carlson.
“In my almost 29-year NASCAR career, I’ve been fortunate to work for just one organization,” Andrews said in a statement from the team. “Mr. Hendrick is a racer and a fierce competitor. His drive to win is contagious, and I’m grateful to have a team of like-minded people who share that passion. Racing is all I have ever done professionally. When I left my home and my family 33 years ago to pursue this dream, I never could have imagined the opportunities that have been provided by so many people, most importantly Mr. Hendrick.”
Said Hendrick in a statement: “As we look to the years ahead, Jeff and Chad are going to play significant roles in our success. They’re tremendous leaders who are respected within our organization and across the entire auto racing world. In addition, they each bring unique strengths and skillsets that will complement each other extremely well and benefit all of Hendrick Motorsports. We’re in the business of winning, and this combination is going to help us do just that.”