Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus open up about split

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CONCORD, N.C. – We learned Wednesday they won’t be finishing their careers together, but how long will Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus continue to compete in NASCAR?

Those were among the questions the driver and crew chief of the No. 48 Chevrolet faced Thursday during their first extended media availability since their impending split was announced. The duo, which has seven championships, will finish out the last six races of the 2018 season.

Johnson, who turned 43 last month, said he wanted to race for another 10 to 15 years but was unsure how long in Cup. His contract with Hendrick Motorsports runs through the 2020 season.

“I don’t have that answer,” he said. “I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been.  I’m as committed as I’ve ever been. It’s not crossing my mind, I have not thought retirement.

“I know that social media likes to light up and have different opinions and it’s all a bunch of B.S. I’m here to win races and win championships.  This is my passion, this is my job, this is what I do, this is who I am.  I’m here to race.  If and when I stop racing Cup full time, I’m still going racing.  I just want to race 20 times a year instead of 38 or 39 times a year.”

Knaus, who turned 47 and became a first-time father in August, has said before he intended to be done as a crew chief before he turned 50, possibly moving into a management role. But in becoming the crew chief for William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet (a longtime dream since he worked on Jeff Gordon’s championship-winning No. 24), Knaus left open the possibility of staying on the road and atop the pit box for longer.

“I’m not 50 yet,” Knaus said with a laugh. “I mean, I’m not going to be a reporter, so I’ve got to do something.

“I really love this company. My goal was to be here long-term.  If it’s in a capacity as a crew chief we will ride that until it’s time for me not to be. The decision (will) be made by myself and by Mr. Hendrick only the way I see it. Brooke (Knaus’ wife) was involved in this 100 percent.  As we started going through everything.  Even when I signed my two-year contract earlier this year, she was a very integral part of the decision-making process because we are paying attention to where we are at and what we are going to be doing in the future.  As of right now, the crew chief thing is what we want to do. I want to do it.  If I’m happy, she’s happy.”

Hendrick Motorsports vice president of Jeff Andrews said “that’s ultimately Chad and Mr. Hendrick’s decision. We’re committed to this relationship right now.

“I know that Chad wouldn’t commit to do it if he had short-term plans about it. He knows that it’s going to take some level of commitment. That commitment is going to be possibly years to get the success out of it that he expects and we expect out of it.”

Here’s the full transcript of their 40-minute meeting with a group of reporters at the Hendrick Motorsports campus Thursday afternoon.

Q: When did you come to this decision? Has this been in the works?

Johnson: “It hasn’t been a short-term decision or something that just happened in the recent time. It’s been an ongoing conversation that we’ve all had. The timing, just the way that it worked out, this is the week that it’s coming out to the public and we’re announcing it. Over the years, we’ve certainly had our heated moments, but the commitment we’ve had to one another, our relationship and the success of the team; we’ve invested a lot in that and put a lot of time in it. The decision to split up, it took a long time to make that decision as well. It’s not something that was like ‘ok, yeah that’s what we’re going to do.’ We put a lot of thought into it, worked on it and I think that we have a really strong plan moving forward. Just getting through this week, get it behind us and get to work on what’s next for both of us and the teams.”

Knaus: “It’s the right time with the company with what we’ve got going on. We made a huge fundamental shift last year with the way the way that we operate at Hendrick Motorsports; combining the two buildings and putting four teams under one roof essentially. There’s time for evolution that creates opportunity for a lot of people. Obviously, Kevin, Darian and myself. We’ve got to do what we feel is best for the No. 48, we’ve got to do what we feel is best for the other parts of the company. It’s just the right time.”

Q: You both signed through 2020. Why break up now instead of finishing out the contracts together?

Knaus: “It’s all opportunity at the right time. I signed with Hendrick Motorsports. My contract has always said with Hendrick Motorsports. It hasn’t necessarily said for the No. 48 team. I love Rick. I love this company. I’ve been here, I was telling some of the guys in the shop, this is like 25 years for me with this company. I was here well before the No. 48 was ever even thought of. To sign a contract with Hendrick Motorsports last year was an honor for me. Obviously, I love racing, I love this community and I love that it is what I do. Just the opportunity and the right time. Everything has got to be about timing and Rick’s pretty good about putting these timing pieces together. It’s right.”

Johnson: “To go with that, we both are fierce competitors and want to win. The last two years, although we did win three races last year, the year ended, it was difficult. This year has been tough as you guys all know and have lived with us. We’re fierce competitors, we both want to win races, we both want to win championships and we acknowledge the fact that we’ve had a hell of a run. It’s been a long, amazing run of seventeen years. Sometimes, change brings new opportunity. Change brings excitement, a new breath of fresh air, a spark. Whatever it might be, that opportunity is now here for us. We’ve been highly committed to each other, this team and our relationship, but it’s just to the point where we feel like change is the next step and potentially the next step for our next level of greatness as individuals. It just feels like it’s time.”

Q: So no more cookies and milk meetings?

Johnson: “That was a starting point of us both having a lot of personal growth. Over the years, I guess there haven’t been that many documented moments but I promise you; the reason we lasted 17 years together is because of, it started with the milk and cookies meeting but many of the other discussions, meetings, sessions over the years, whatever it is, we’re communicating on a deep level. A level that’s like a brotherhood more than a working relationship. That’s how you go 17 years. Milk and cookies is the one that we all know about and the start of some of these difficult conversations that have been very impactful and meaningful for us but, that was a long time ago.”

Q: What made this not repairable?

Johnson: “I think you could sense that it’s not that things are broken.”

Knaus: “It’s not like we’re trying to kill each other. That’s not where this is. It’s an opportunity for growth for both of us. We’ve lasted longer than the average length of a marriage in the United States. We’ve worked really hard. In order to be committed in a team-oriented environment for that long, there’s a lot of deep digging that you have to get through. And we’ve done that and we’ve put forth the effort and it’s time right now to do something different. It really is it’s the right time for the company. We have a young driver in William Byron. We’ve got growth within the company we’ve got a fairly young crew chief in Kevin that needs an opportunity. There’s a lot of things that are falling at the right place right now. Jimmie and I, we love each other, we fight like brothers which has been perfectly documented. It’s perfectly fine, we’re okay with that. We’ve answered way harder questions than this before in the past. It’s just the right time for everybody.”

Q: Chad, you worked on the no. 24, now you get to go back and work with a young driver in William Byron. How invigorating is that for you?

Knaus: “You have no idea. I’m so geeked up by it. I have goosebumps when I think about it. I told some guys here yesterday, the No. 24 guys, I started here in 1993 and in 1993 when I walked in the door and I started to work in that little shop up on the hill when we had about 14 full-time employees, I was about the 75th teammate here because I wanted to be crew chief on the No. 24 car. It’s only taken me 25 years and 17 years with this guy to get the opportunity to be able to do that. I’m really proud of that. I’m excited, we had Dupont which is now Axalta on the No. 24 car back then. I’m going to the No. 24 car with Axalta, which was Dupont. Jeff was 21-years-old, William’s going to be 21-years-old next year. It’s a really neat thing. I’m stoked. I really am. I’m sad that this chapter is… It’s not over. I mean you can’t, what people think, ‘the era’s over,’ you can’t erase what we’ve done. It’s not over. It’s going to live forever.”

Johnson: “It’s not over and we’re lifers with this company. This is home for us and our collaboration of working together, it’s ending to the way that we’re all familiar with it being, but it’s not over. My interaction with the young drivers, with the crew chiefs in general, Chad’s input, to me, that line of communication, the ability to work together is still there.”

Q: Will you still be working together in some capacity at Hendrick?

Johnson: “Extremely and in the way, we’ve restructured things at Hendrick, absolutely. It’s gone to a whole new level for our culture here in the company. The amount of time I see other crew chiefs, other teammates and team members, this year is probably equal to what I’ve seen of those teammates and drivers in 16 years. We all live in the same space. The collaboration amongst all four drivers and crew chiefs is really high and it’s only going to continue to grow.”

Q: Who was the first to suggest the idea of the split?

Knaus: “Whichever one of us was pissed anytime between the last 16 years.

Q: What about this time, though?

Johnson: “I have to say ultimately, it’s Rick’s call. It’s Hendrick Motorsports. We’ve had a lot of very open conversations and discussions but in the end, Rick is the one that makes the decisions.”

Q: Did you guys argue with that decision?

Knaus: “You have to argue internally a little bit to make sure that you’re buying into it but I think we all understood with what we’ve gone through over the years, the performance of the No. 48 right now that it’s time to go ahead and do something different.”

Q: How did you reach that point? 

Johnson: “It’s a lot of honesty and a lot of communicating with all three involved, including Rick obviously. It’s us having hard conversations and when the idea was brought up, looking at all the pieces of the puzzle that could potentially move and what that would mean. But honestly, it comes from manning up in a lot of ways. That is the process we had to go through. As you can imagine, it hasn’t been easy and it’s certainly not fun but through tough conversations, conversations I think we could see, we experienced some optimism and we could see a plan laid out that started to make sense.”

Q: When this was presented, how did the internal conversation go with making a list of pros and cons?

Knaus: “I think you are going way too far into this.  Let’s be frank, whoever thought that this would have gone 17 years?  My point is this, instead of reflecting on what is the unknown, reflect a little bit on what we accomplished.  And that is what I have really focused on.  We have done amazing things over the course of our career.  It should not have stemmed the span that it did.  That is very, very comforting to me, personally. You can try to twist it all you want and do that stuff, but that is not what it is about.  There are great opportunities for both of us.  Jimmie has still got years left in him to drive and I have still got a couple of years left in me to be a crew chief.  We are going to go and do that.  It wasn’t as tumultuous as what you may think.  Everything is about timing.  This is the right time.”

Q: So you have a couple of years left as a crew chief …

Knaus (smiling): “God you really dig.  You don’t know, man.  You just don’t know.  As of right now the goal is going to be for me personally is go build the No. 24 team to be the best team that I am possibly capable of.  And we go and we win… I doubt very highly that William (Byron) and I will be together for 17 years (laughs).”

Q: Jimmie has been asked before about getting a new crew chief, and the answer always was he didn’t want to find out what it would be like. What is your feeling now?

Johnson: “Yeah, we have all had to make tough decisions in life.  Making the decision is the hardest part and it certainly took us all time to make this decision, but once the decision has been made and we start looking at our teams, what is going to happen, the people that are coming in, the opportunities that I have to grow as a leader of the No. 48 team, Chad’s opportunity to work on the No. 24 team, there is a lot of excitement there.  We live in a performance-based world and ultimately that is what we will be judged by. But, I have never let that fear steer me.  There have been other things internally that steer me and I see a great opportunity here.  I look back at 17 years, 7 championships, 83 wins so far, which we plan to change that with the remaining races we have left.  I have a lot of pride.  Again, it wasn’t an easy decision.  It took time to make it and you go through the thoughts of seeing it end.  Could we have finished together?  Of course, we have batted around all the questions that you are asking, but at some point, you have to go with your gut and it just feels right.  We have had a hell of a run.  And a new spark probably wouldn’t hurt us. There is something to that and something new that we can both participate in.  And then still at the same time be there for one another on a level that I don’t think has ever existed when a driver/crew chief do split. These splits usually are pretty tough.  And in our situation, it’s not that. So, I have an ally and he has an ally.  Where can that help us both grow? So, once you make the decision and you start putting one foot in front of the other I often find a lot of excitement in those moments and I have in this.  I really have in this moment.”

Q: Did you have any input on choosing Kevin (Meendering) as the new crew chief?

Johnson: “Yeah, absolutely involved in the decision process on that.  It’s a very logical step for us when we look at our relationship with JR Motorsports.  Greg Ives (crew chief for Alex Bowman) left here, went there, came back, Kevin is doing the same thing.  Kevin has a long history here at Hendrick Motorsports.  Started in the fab shop.  I worked next to him in the same shop as he was the lead engineering on the No. 88 car for so many years.  There is definitely… we have a system in place and we have been able to use it a couple of times.  There are some other examples too.”

Knaus: “There are a bunch, you look at (Steve) Letarte, you look at (Alan) Gustafson, you look at myself, you look at Kevin, Greg Ives, it’s always better for and I think our company stands to bring somebody from within than it is to necessarily bring somebody from outside.  Especially, with what it is that we are trying to breed and cultivate up there in that building now with the team work. It shows the people that come to work here at Hendrick Motorsports that there is unlimited opportunity of growth.  So, I think that, in my opinion, I’m not trying to speak for Jimmie here, he is the perfect person to come in because as you start to give somebody new responsibility the levels that they can rise to are amazing.  So, I think it’s great.”

Q: What do you like about Kevin’s style?

Johnson: “His pedigree… I haven’t worked alongside of him yet, I have watched from across the hall in a sense when he was on the No. 88 car.  But the amount of respect everybody here at Hendrick Motorsports has for him, from Chad to Alan Gustafson, you name the crew chief, even throughout the industry…I’ve been receiving text messages from competitors saying ‘hey he’s a sharp guy and a great choice’.  So, his reputation and the way people hold his work ethic and his value the way they look and think of him.  Speaking with drivers that have worked with him, how much fun he likes to have, how easy going he is.  There are a lot of traits and qualities there that I’m very excited about.  It’s awesome to have a lead engineer graduate into that crew chief role with as technical as our sport is.  Knowing his background and the years that he has been in our system to understand our simulation, to understand all of our departments, how all that works, I have a lot of excitement around that as well.”

Q: What advice do you have for William working with Chad?

Johnson: “I am really excited for William.  We have chatted quite a bit about it and I feel that William is a lot like me.  He likes to be coached along.  I think there are some personalities that liked to be coached and others that don’t thrive or succeed in that environment.  William is a lot like me in that he likes to be coached and with Chad’s wisdom and years and experience his intensity and desire to win, I think it could do a lot of good for him.  I’m really excited for him.”

Q: Chad, can you build William up to Jimmie’s level?

Johnson: “I’ll answer it: Yes. William is a hell of a talent, absolutely. You just see and experience things on track.  William’s ascent into the Cup Series, I mean nobody has gotten here faster, and it’s for good reason.  The kid has a ton of talent.  I think he is going to have a great opportunity with Chad.”

Q: Are you taking the no. 48 crew to the no. 24?

Knaus: “No, surely there will be some movement at the end of the season.  That happens everywhere on every race team and all around our industry.  I don’t know exactly how all that is going to unfold, but right now, the way it sits the No. 48 team which we finally have just gotten… we had a huge change on the No. 48.  New car chief, mechanics, new engineers, new shock specialist all throughout the course of this year was a huge growth year for the No. 48.  So, we want to try to keep those guys together as much as possible because they are starting to… as you can see with our performance, starting to hit their stride.  Really starting to get things going. So, the majority of that team will stay with the No. 48.”

Q: So this will be the opposite of the No. 24 and 88 switch of just drivers in 2011?

Knaus: “Completely different.  Instead of switching drivers we are switching crew chiefs with the teams.”

Q: You have said before you don’t want to be a crew chief past 50. Do you still have management aspirations? 

Knaus: “I’m not 50 yet (laughs). Yes, maybe, yeah for sure, I’ve got to do something.  I mean I’m not going to be a reporter, so I’ve got to do something (laughs).  I guess maybe part-time analyst is what we call it.  But, yeah, I love this company.  I really love this company. My goal was to be here long-term.  If it’s in a capacity as a crew chief we will ride that until it’s time for me not to be.  The decision to be made by myself and by Mr. Hendrick only the way I see it.  Brooke (Knaus, wife) was involved in this 100 percent.  As we started going through everything.  Even when I signed my two-year contract earlier this year, she was a very integral part of the decision-making process because we are paying attention to where we are at and what we are going to be doing in the future.  As of right now, the crew chief thing is what we want to do. I want to do it.  If I’m happy, she’s happy.  Kip (Knaus, son) he’s never happy, but we are working on that (laughs).”

Q: Do you feel at all like you are starting over because you are going back to a driver that doesn’t have any experience?

Knaus: “Yeah, you guys remember Ron Malec our car chief who is a great friend of Jimmie’s and a great friend of mine and a huge part of what it is that we do.  He and I were just talking a moment ago, I don’t think people understand how quickly he (William Byron) has risen to where he is.  This kid has got a boat load of talent.  So, for me to get the opportunity to work with him is just like getting the opportunity to work with Jimmie back then. That excitement level is very, very similar. Now, it’s a little different right because back then we didn’t have anything. We hadn’t won a race, we hadn’t done much of anything.  I’m very fortunate that I’ve won some races. He has already won a championship in the Xfinity Series and the kid is 20 years old.  It’s exciting for me, it really is.  Again, I’m an old racer guy, but I’m totally geeked to be crew chief on the No. 24 car.  I’m not lying when I said that when I started here I was like ‘man I want to be crew chief on that No. 24 car’.  I always wanted to be Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, I didn’t make that happen, but I was at least crew chief for his team and for his car number.”

Q: Was there any thought of you going over to the No. 24 for the final few races of 2018?

Knaus: “I think it was tossed around a little bit.  Jimmie and I talked about it one day, but really man I want to stay with the No. 48 and ride this thing out for the rest of the year.  I think we are to the point… I think we are at the point that we can still go out there and win races.  The team is just starting to really get rolling.  If you look at (Las) Vegas, man we were fast we could have won Las Vegas.  I know the stats don’t show it and all that kind of stuff, but Richmond we could have potentially won Richmond. We could have won the Roval.  Dover, how that freak accident happened I have absolutely no idea, but again, thank God it happened when it did.”

Johnson: “A lap earlier or a lap later I could have been seeing stars and birds flying around my head.”

Knaus: “So, yeah, we are sticking this thing out.  We can win a race or two before the end of the year starting this weekend.”

Q: Was Ron Malec in the discussion to be your new crew chief?

Johnson: “No.  I think Ron… I’m trying to think back years ago.  There probably was a fork in the road for Ron to pursue that opportunity 10 years ago.  Ron’s commitment to me and this No. 48 team, he was so happy in the role he was in as the car chief and then through his efforts and how much everybody believes in him the opportunity came about in the shop for him to ascend to that next spot and now he is over all of those guys.  So, Ron’s decision was made several years back and the path he was going to go down.”

Q: Did you consider any outside candidates?

Johnson: “You know there are certainly some names that are out there that are desirable guys to look at, but ultimately within and within our system is something that Rick (Hendrick) started this process a long time ago and he has invested a lot of time and effort into it and we have a lot of talent right here that we need to look at.  The relationship with JR Motorsports, that whole piece the way all of that works, that is what it’s there for.  And we have put a lot of time and effort into this system and we need to see that through.”

Q: How much longer do you want to race?

Johnson: “Ten, 15 years.  It might not be in Cup for that long…”

Q: How long in Cup?

Johnson: “I don’t have that answer.  I don’t know.  I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been.  I’m as committed as I’ve ever been. It’s not crossing my mind, I have not thought retirement.  I know that social media likes to light up and have different opinions and it’s all a bunch of B.S. I’m here to win races and win championships.  This is my passion, this is my job, this is what I do, this is who I am.  I’m here to race.  If and when I stop racing Cup full-time, I’m still going racing.  I just want to race 20 times a year instead of 38 or 39 times a year.”

Q: Do you have 17 more years left in you?

Johnson: “I don’t know.  That is a good question.  I mean if Bill Elliott can still come back and run one, I mean 17 years from now why can’t I?  It looks like fun.”

Q: With this move do you even think about trying to see if you can win without each other?

Johnson: “I can honestly say it’s not crossed my mind through this process.  That is not some point that I feel like I need to prove or really even thought of.  Of course, I believe I can win and plan on winning in the years to come, but there is not anything behind that.”

Q: If Johnson and William Byron are in the final four next year in Homestead, how does that work out?

Knaus: “We win.”

Johnson (laughs): “I wouldn’t expect anything else.  That is the beauty in it.  That honestly is the beauty and I sure as hell hope we have that situation.  Couldn’t be a better situation than that.”

Knaus: “This is not a whole lot different than what we have done for years at Hendrick Motorsports with teammates running for championships against one another, the 48, the 24, the relationship that we have with Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte as we were going through those years is no different than the relationship… well it’s not nearly as deep-seeded as the relationship that Jimmie and I have.  It’s going to be fine.  It’s going to be great.  I fully expect him to win races with Kevin.  I fully expect it and I fully expect William and I to win races.  That is the reason we are doing this.”

Q: There is shock value in breaking up the band. Were you aware people wouldn’t believe it when the news broke?

Johnson: “Yeah, I know.  We kind of expected this.  It’s hard to believe and hopefully people will sense where we are at and we can show through our actions as the next couple of months unfold and we work into 2019 people will truly get it.  But, I would imagine there was a lot of shock and wondering if it was April 1st when that press release went out.”

Q: For all the things that you guys have accomplished one of the things is winning a race every season. What does that mean to keep it alive?

Knaus: “It’s important to try to win this season.  I don’t know that that… you guys rely on stats way more than what I do.  But, yeah, contrary to what people believe we go to the race track to win every week.  So, that is kind of the goal and that is what we are going to do.  If the car has the performance to be able to do it and if I can get the set-up right and Jimmie has got the groove that day.  It’s very difficult, we at times made it seem very simple to win races.  Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have made it seem very simple to win races from time to time, but it’s really difficult.  So, a lot of the stars have to align and like I mentioned before, I think we are in a position right now where we are getting pretty close to the stars getting right where we need them to win some races. We are going to some great race tracks.  We have been the last couple of weeks. I really feel we could have won last week if we hadn’t had that freak problem.”

Johnson: “It’s high on my list for sure to get that streak alive.  Other than the obvious, I mean it’s just the obvious things, I want to keep that streak alive.  I know it’s in us.  I guess you do hang on to some stats that float around there although I don’t spend a lot of time looking at them, I take pride in the fact that we have made every Playoff that NASCAR has had so far.  To have 16 winning seasons, I sure as hell want 17 winning seasons.  The Roval, I had a look at one and certainly took a shot at it.  Then last weekend we were just frothing at the mouth ready for that opportunity and didn’t even get to take the green unfortunately.  At least on my list to keep that streak alive.  Obviously, now that the championship opportunity is closed out, that is the next target to have.”

Q: Did you think William Byron would win this year?

Knaus: “I can only go off of his record, so I’m really not a lot different than you.  And knowing the fact that he has won in everything he has been in during his first year, so, I still think he can. We as a company have not given him everything he needs to win races yet.  I think we are at the point now where we are starting to get the cars where they need to be. Obviously, with the performance of the No.9 car and the other cars being elevated over the course of the last handful of weeks, yeah, I think he can still win.  But, yeah, my expectation was for a victory just based off of history.”

Q: How does having Kevin as your crew chief give you a better opportunity to win races?

Johnson: “Well the year is not over yet with Chad, so for starters there is that.  We have a couple of opportunities left.  I haven’t put a lot of thought into that specifically.  I do feel that we have put a lot of time and energy into the 17 years that we have had and a fresh start would suit us both well.  That excitement, energy and the commitment involved, the learning, the communication that takes place to start a new opportunity there is some magic in that.  When new things start up there is always some extra energy and excitement around it.  So, with that in mind I think comes opportunity for both cars and both teams.”

Q: New rules and a new sponsor for the team next season. Did it make sense that 2019 would be a good time to start anew with there being a reset on some key fronts.

Knaus: “I don’t know that played a role.”

Johnson: “I don’t think that played a role it’s just a turning out that way.”

Q: How much will you think back to when you and Jimmie first started and take what worked and what didn’t work take that to leading William Byron next year?

Knaus: “Yeah, there is a lot.  I think we did a lot of very good things early on in our career, but unfortunately, you are not capable of doing a lot of those things now.  We did a lot of testing, we did a lot of 1-on-1 track time.  We did a lot of things from that aspect that you just aren’t able to do per the rules.  Plus, it’s going to be different. Jimmie and I were young and in a different place.  William is young and I’m old. So, it’s going to be a different dynamic.  I’m not 28 years old or however old we were when we started this thing, I’m not.  It’s going to be a little bit different, but there are good lessons learned.  I will definitely lean on Jimmie to find out from his perspective what he thinks I need to do and how I need to interact with William.  We have been fortunate to have Alex (Bowman) and Chase (Elliott) and see these guys develop and how they go, so I’ve got a pretty good indication of how Alan has handled Chase and how that has grown, so yeah, I mean there is a lot of opportunity for me to figure out how to get this thing done and navigate it correctly.”

Q: A lot of people on social media have been asking if the Roval finish was a factor in this decision?

Johnson: “Not even close.”

Knaus: “I think it was already done.”

Johnson: “That wasn’t it.”

Knaus: “No, that wasn’t it.  That was albeit heartbreaking that was not part of it. I wanted to win that race just as bad as he did.  I beat myself up more than I probably ever blamed Jimmie for what happened there.  I think I mentioned it, I could have probably come on the radio and said one or two things and he probably would have maybe thought and checked up a little bit, but my last words to him was ‘go get his ass.’”

Johnson: “I was crossing the start/finish line watching the white flag wave when he said that… yeah, that is what we do, we are there to win.”

Knaus: “I’m going to close with this real quick.  You guys have to realize that he was one of the first people ever to see my child.  I was one of the first to see Genevieve when she was just born.  We have been together for a long time.  I was at his wedding, he was at my wedding, we spend holidays together and that is going to continue and it’s going to continue to grow.  He has got a lot of valuable life lessons for me to learn yet about children and marriage and all that kind of cool stuff. I’m going to continue to lean on him on a lot of different levels and I’m always going to be there for him.”

Q: Do you think you might like to be around each other even more?

Knaus: “You are 100 percent correct.  Every time you leave out of battle you have an emotion a sense in you that you have to deplete before you are able to get back into that space.  So, we have gone through that a lot.  I talked to (Jeff) Gordon about it and he swears that he and Ray (Evernham) are better friends now than what they were when they were winning championships and winning races and I feel like we will be the same way.”

Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”