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The Art of Racing - Johnson making changes

Jimmie Johnson has been one of NASCAR’s biggest disappointments this year. As a seven-time Cup Series Champion, all with Chad Knaus as crew chief, big things were expected of him in 2018. As it turned out, 2018 has been the worst season of his career. Johnson was the veteran driver in the Hendrick Motorsports stable. So much was expected of him, but he went winless for the year. 

As Johnson was struggling to get a win, things started looking sour when Lowe’s, his longtime sponsor, revealed it would not be returning to the sport as a sponsor. The team of Johnson and Knaus, with Lowe’s name on the No. 48 car, was one of the most recognizable teams in NASCAR. 

Sponsors have figured out that spending $20-$30 million on a race team for 30 races a year just doesn’t provide an return on investment worthy of the purchase. Instead, the system where a team has multiple sponsors for four-to-six races each has become the new norm.

The next big shock for the NASCAR sporting world came in October when it was announced that Knaus would not be Johnson’s crew chief in 2019. The driver-crew chief paring of Johnson and Knaus had been together for the past 17 years. Knaus will move from Johnson’s pit box to become the crew chief for William Byron. Johnson’s new crew chief will be Kevin Meendering, Elliott Sadler’s crew chief in the Xfinity series.

The success that Johnson and Knaus enjoyed together is undeniable. The duo claimed seven championships, including five in a row from 2006-2010, and 83 Cup victories.

 “It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “They’re fierce competitors, great friends and have immense respect for one another. They also fight like brothers. All three of us agree it’s finally time for new challenges and that a change will benefit them and the organization.” 

The legacy Knaus and Johnson left on this sport together is one we may never see again.

Not all is lost for Johnson, as Ally Financial will become his new sponsor for the next two years with a financial commitment similar to what Lowe’s was spending.

Art Larson Sr. is a guest columnist for the Southern Standard.