CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Together, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus dominated auto racing for years.
It seems only fitting they were both selected for the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Johnson, one of the most accomplished drivers in the sport’s history, and his crew chief Knaus combined to win a record-tying seven Cup Series championships.
“It’s very special and unique,” Johnson said of going into the Hall of Fame with his friend. “When I knew my name was going on the ballot, and Chad’s was as well, in the back of my mind I was really hoping this opportunity would come about.”
They will be joined by former driver Donnie Allison, who got in via the pioneer ballot, as part of NASCAR’s Class of 2024.
The induction ceremony will be held Jan. 19 in Charlotte.
Johnson’s seven Cup Series titles tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most by a driver in NASCAR history, and his run of five consecutive championships from 2006 through 2010 remain a series record. He also won titles in 2013 and 2016.
Johnson’s championships came during an era of change for NASCAR, as he earned titles under a variety of championship points formats and in three different generations of race cars.
Nicknamed “Superman,” Johnson had a knack for coming up big at NASCAR’s biggest races, winning all of the sport’s crown jewel events at least twice. He won the Daytona 500 in 2006 and 2013, four Brickyard 400s (2006, ’08-09, ’12), four Coca-Cola 600s (2003-05, ’14), two Southern 500s (2004, ’12) and four All-Star Races (2003, ’06, ’12-13).
Johnson’s 83 Cup wins rank sixth-most in NASCAR history and they came at 20 different tracks.
Despite his accomplishments, the 47-year-old Johnson was not a unanimous selection. He received 93% of the votes from a panel of 57 that included NASCAR executives, drivers, crews chiefs, reporters and industry contributors.
Johnson shrugged off word that four panel members didn’t select him, saying it didn’t matter to him.
Knaus seemed to take exception.
“If he isn’t a unanimous vote, I don’t know that anybody ever will be,” Knaus said. “He’s the nicest guy and the best to ever sit in a NASCAR race car. He contributes to our sport and to society in so many different ways through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. He is the ideal picture of a Hall of Fame inductee.”
Knaus should know — he was with Johnson throughout his wildly successful run.
Knaus, 51, came to Hendrick Motorsports as an assistant in the body shop, learning under Hall of Famer Ray Evernham as part of the “Rainbow Warriors.”
They first met at a race in Homestead in 2001.
A few weeks later, Johnson, then a rookie on a fourth Hendrick Motorsports team, was paired with Knaus in the No. 48 Chevrolet, the start of one of the most productive partnerships in sports history.
Knaus said he was surprised and humbled to learn that he got into the Hall of Fame, receiving 81% of the votes.
“It’s an honor to be here with Jimmie,” Knaus said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson.”
Johnson said his relationship with Knaus wasn’t always perfect given their competitive nature, but that they made it work.
“There were times we definitely butted heads, as I’m sure everybody heard on the radio,” Johnson said. “But ultimately we had the same goal and that was to be the best that we could. I never had anyone in my life push me as hard and as well as Chad Knaus.”
Car owner Rick Hendrick said it’s fitting they are going into the hall together.
“Each is a champion and generational talent in their own right,” Hendrick said. “But together, they were pure magic. All of us at Hendrick Motorsports were fortunate to see greatness up close as they rewrote the record book.”
For his part, Allison won 10 Cup Series races during his career.
The 83-year-old Allison was a member of NASCAR’s famed “Alabama Gang” and an ambassador for the sport for more than 50 years.
“It’s quite an honor to join the Hall of Fame, and it’s just about as big of a honor to be in the Alabama gang,” Allison said.
Allison is perhaps best known for his role in one of NASCAR’s most famous moments — his 1979 Daytona 500 fight with Cale Yarborough during the sport’s first nationally televised race. An intense battle for the win ended with both drivers wrecked and scuffling in the infield. The publicity from the altercation spurred the growth of NASCAR and remains one of the defining moments in the sport’s history.
Janet Guthrie was named the Landmark Award winner for her outstanding contributions to the sport. Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Cup Series superspeedway race when she drove to a 15th-place finish in the 1976 World 600.
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