See Also: Byron, Johnson to Get New Crew Chiefs
MRN’s Woody Cain talks with Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus following the announcement that they won’t be paired together in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2019. Parts of this interview will be featured in MRN’s Pre-Race Show for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com at Talladega Superspeedway.
Cain: You guys won’t be together after this season and apparently it’s been talked about for a few weeks, but why now – was there a giant food fight that we don’t know about, or was it just simply time?
Johnson: I think it’s more in the simply time category. It’s been longer than a few weeks honestly. This decision was one that wasn’t made on a limb in any short order. It took a collaboration and a lot of time and effort and discussion between Chad, Rick and myself. Even out to Jeff Andrews and people here in the company. Jeff Gordon has been involved. We’ve done a ton together, we had an amazing run, but it just feels like it’s time for us to pursue different opportunities. We are still for one another, to support each other and still very, very close friends. It’s just kind of time. We are going different directions and I’m going to be his biggest cheerleader and he’ll do the same for me.
Cain: Chad, what do you see in a young William Byron that maybe you saw in a young Jimmie Johnson back in the day?
Knaus: There’s a lot of desire that you can see in his eyes that he wants to go out there and prove himself much like Jimmie did. When we sat down across the table from one another in December 2001 and looked at each other and said we want to go and make this thing happen and that this is an opportunity for us and we wanted to capture that opportunity. I see a little bit of that in William as well. He understands that this is a great opportunity for him to go and compete at this level so that’s comforting to see that.
Cain: Is there any bitter sweetness to the fact that if there’s an eighth championship it won’t be with each other?
Johnson: I wish we were still in the playoffs right now and have the chance to compete for an eighth. Unfortunately that’s not the situation we are in, but there are six races left and we want to keep our winning streak alive. We’ve had 16 winning seasons together and it would be amazing to have our entire run together of winning seasons. That’s a high priority for me and I know from Chad’s standpoint as well it’s important to him. We hold ourselves to a standard that we should win races and honestly that’s where we are at and we are ready to get that done. In the last month we have shown that we are close to it.
Cain: Chad, what’s a common misconception that you think that people have about Jimmie. With all the social media swirling these days…just a thing that people don’t necessarily get about him?
Knaus: I can’t comment too much on the social media because I don’t partake. I heard this was trending on twitter last night so we made some pretty big news apparently. I think the big thing that people don’t understand is he is such a nice guy that they don’t understand just how fierce of a competitor he is. The desire to win and go fast, win races really stems to the core with Jimmie that he doesn’t necessarily outward project unless you really know him. You are in the environment with him to see that. It’s a quality that is pretty unique as well. To be able to have that desire and have that ability but be able to temper it so it’s not outwardly know and seen too much.
Cain: Jimmie, same to you what do people not get about Chad Knaus?
Johnson: Chad is a bit of the opposite where he does project that piece. People at times might struggle and they take his intensity to personally. It’s really just his desire to win. When the dust settles you sit down and have a beer it’s on a different level. His desire to win just bleeds out of him and he can’t help it, which I appreciate and respect.
Cain: Chad, years ago at some event at Hendrick Motorsports I got a chance to peek in your office and it was as neat as a pin and there was hardly anything anywhere except there was this one trophy from 2002 at Auto Club Speedway. You could pile up seven championship trophies in your office if you wanted to, but why that one?
Knaus: Man…I don’t know. It’s still there just so you know. That is the only trophy that I have kept. It was a very meaningful moment I think in our lives to go and get that win in Fontana in 2002. It was very early in our career. I feel like that is what set the course for the dynasty we have. It was a pretty amazing period. There was a huge growth moment after that happened. I’m talking just not from a team standpoint but from an emotional standpoint. A level of knowing that you can be successful in this sport for both of us. There is a lot that developed right there from a friendship, a bond, a team, an accomplishment. That is a huge moment in our lives.
Cain: Jimmie you have batted down a lot of the social media stuff that Chad doesn’t see and participate in about… Where does that fire come in you now and how is it different from when you started, if it is?
Johnson: I don’t believe it’s any different at all. I struggle to understand where people come from at times and some of things that are said on social media, but it’s not a space I should spend a lot of time worrying about. The way I justify that is the people around me they know me they know what I’m about and that’s all that should matter. My family, my friends, my team. My desire to compete they see every single day. I’m up and at it early. I put in the time and I work. I love to compete and I’m still extremely passionate probably more so now than when I was getting started. Sure at some point I’ll stop racing full-time in NASCAR, but I don’t think I’m ever going to stop racing. I love to compete. That’s what I’m about.
Cain: Chad, can you and William beat Jimmie and Kevin (Meendering) next year?
Knaus: We better. That’s kind of the whole point of this thing right? Kevin is an amazing guy. He is very intelligent. He’s a heck of a lot smarter than I am so to be able to put Kevin with a guy like Jimmie that’s going to be a force to reckon with. The goal is to go out there and compete with the 24 and win races and the goal of those guys is to win races. Look, Jimmie has deserved a smarter crew chief than what he’s had with me so he’s got that now with Kevin and it’s going to be fun to watch.