By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Call them inseparable.
Despite a few rough patches in their 17-year working relationship, driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus achieved a level of success at NASCAR’s highest level unparalleled in the current century.
Together, on Friday night in the Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center, Johnson and Knaus reaped the rewards of their remarkable accomplishments—induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2024 in their first year of eligibility.
Johnson and Knaus entered the Hall along with Donnie Allison, elected to NASCAR’s highest honor from the Pioneer Ballot. An original member of the famed Alabama Gang, Allison helped elevate stock car racing’s visibility with both his driving skills and his fists.
Johnson earned high praise from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who lobbied on Johnson’s behalf when team owner Rick Hendrick considered adding a fourth team in 2002.
“He’s the best driver I ever raced against,” Gordon said in a video introducing his teammate.
In his acceptance speech, Johnson demurred with typical modesty, opening his remarks with a story about the motorcycle he found under the Christmas tree in 1979.
“I realize how many people played a role in this Hall of Fame induction,” Johnson said later in the speech. “Thank you to my family, friends, fans—everyone at Jimmie Johnson Racing, former team members and teammates, everyone who has been part of this journey.
“This success story of seven championships and 83 wins, and now this, is all about relationships. I’m truly grateful for the journey and the amazing relationships forged and the incredible companies I’ve represented like Lowe’s and Ally.
“Whether on two wheels or four, in SoCal or Charlotte, in the driver’s seat or up on top of the pit box, moonlighting as race car mechanic or driving a school bus (as his parents did), whether you’re looking up to your heroes, driving for them or competing against them… if you’re with us now or up in heaven, thank you for being a crucial part of this incredible run.
“This is beyond my wildest dreams—and I thought Christmas morning in 1979 was special.”
Johson reserved special praise for his teammate and team owner.
“I’m forever grateful to Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick,” Johnson said after receiving the Hall of Fame ring from his wife Chani. “You guys selected me for the No. 48 car, and I’m still not sure why.”
“Congrats, brother,” Johnson said to Knaus. “I’m so glad that we’re able to go in on the same ballot.”
After Tony Stewart won the 2005 series title, Johnson embarked on a remarkable run, claiming a record five straight championships from 2006 through 2010—a streak broken only by Stewart’s unexpected third title in 2011.
The pairing of Johnson and Knaus almost ended before the streak began. At the end of the 2005 season, they were barely speaking, and team owner Rick Hendrick considered splitting them up.
Before making a decision, Hendrick invited Johnson and Knaus to a meeting and served them milk and cookies on Mickey Mouse plates.
“If you’re going to act like children, I’m going to treat you like children,” was Hendrick’s blunt message to his driver and crew chief.
Hendrick made his point, and with the ice broken, the pair became NASCAR’s version of the “Untouchables” for the next five years.
“That shift allowed us to become champions,” Knaus said.
The five straight Cup championships eclipsed NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough’s previous mark of three straight (1976-1978) and is one entry in the NASCAR record book that likely will remain unassailable. With two non-consecutive titles each, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the only active full-time Cup drivers with more than one.
Johnson added championships in 2013 and 2016, tying the record of seven held jointly by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., both members of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2010. He won his last Cup race—a track-record 11th victory at Dover Motor Speedway—on June 4, 2017, marking the 16th consecutive year he and Knaus had teamed to win at least two events.
That victory was Johnson’s 83rd, tying him with Yarborough for sixth on the career list. The book on Johnson’s career, however, is not quite closed. As co-owner of NASCAR Cup Series entry Legacy Motor Club, he will compete in select races this season, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.
Knaus’s wife Brooke presented the 2024 inductee ring to her husband.
“As I was growing up in the Midwest, my father taught me what it meant to have the best race cars,” Knaus said during his induction speech, “to have the proper maintenance schedule, to never settle for second and to continuously learn—and to always push the rules.”
Thanking his driver of 17 years, Knaus said, “Jimmie let me find out who I was by believing in me.”
A brilliant innovator dedicated to making Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets go faster, Knaus manned the pit box for 81 of Johnson’s 83 Cup wins, having been sidelined under suspension for the first two victories of 2006 for pushing the rules too far in trying to gain an aerodynamic advantage at Daytona.
After the Johnson/Knaus pairing ended following the 2018 season, Knaus served as crew chief for William Byron’s first career victory in the summer 2020 race at Daytona. In 2021, Knaus took on a management role as vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports.
From a career standpoint, Knaus’s seven championships as a crew chief are second only to NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman’s eight. His 82 victories are third all-time.
Allison and brother Bobby Allison accumulated the second-most Cup victories by two brothers (94), a number exceeded only by Kyle and Kurt Busch, who have accounted for 97 wins (with Kyle still active at 63).
Donnie Allison earned his greatest notoriety, however, after he had won the last of his 10 races (1978 at Atlanta). He and Yarborough were battling for the lead on the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500, the first race featuring live flag-to-flag coverage on national network television, and after repeated contact between their cars, they both wrecked at the end of the backstretch.
The drivers climbed from their cars with anger in their eyes and started the fight that would captivate the television audience with its intensity. After Richard Petty inherited the victory, Bobby Allison parked his car near in Turn 3 and joined the fray, as the Alabama drivers ganged up on the South Carolinian.
The race and the fisticuffs that followed sparked interest in the sport of stock car racing and launched the sport’s steady growth over the next two decades.
Allison is the fourth member of the Alabama Gang to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame, joining brother Bobby, nephew Davey Allison and Hueytown patriarch Red Farmer.
Asked what the induction meant to him, Donnie replied, “The closest thing was the feeling I got when I married my lovely wife Pat.”
Allison was the 1967 Cup rookie of the year. He also turned heads with a fourth-place finish in the 1970 Indianapolis 500, earning rookie-of-the-year honors for the race.
“All I can say is wow!” Allison said during his induction speech, during which, with tongue in cheek, he disputed the characterization of his altercation with Yarborough in 1979. “Fought? I never fought… I never touched that man. He never touched me…”
During the ceremony, pioneering driver Janet Guthrie was honored as the recipient of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR. An accomplished sports car racer, Guthrie finished 15th in her NASCAR Cup debut in the 1976 Coca-Cola 600 and went on to compete in 33 Cup races, with a best finish of sixth at Bristol.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace received the Buddy Shuman Award for his charitable endeavors. Also recognized at the ceremony were two titans of the sport who passed away in 2023—broadcaster Ken Squier, co-founder of the Motor Racing Network, and Yarborough.
It was Squier, providing play-by-play for the 1979 Daytona 500 for CBS, who called the fight against Yarborough that Allison insists never really happened.
Squier’s legacy also extends to the Squier-Hall Award of Media Excellence, conferred on the late Shav Glick of the Los Angeles Times this year.
William Byron wins DAYTONA 500
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, FL — William Byron gave team owner Rick Hendrick something extra to celebrate in the 40th anniversary year of Hendrick Motorsports.
In a frantic scramble after a restart on Lap 197 of 200 in the DAYTONA 500, Byron reached the finish line and took the white flag moments before NASCAR called the fifth caution of the evening as Ross Chastain slid wildly through the infield grass off the bumper of Austin Cindric’s Ford.
Alex Bowman was a close second to his teammate at the moment of caution, giving Hendrick a 1-2 finish and the organization’s first victory in the Great American Race since Jimmie Johnson beat teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the stripe in 2014.
The victory was Hendrick’s ninth in the DAYTONA 500, tying the company with Petty Enterprises for most in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series most prestigious event. The race was postponed from Sunday to Monday because of heavy rains during the weekend.
“I’m just a kid from racing on computers and winning the Daytona 500,” said the 26-year-old Byron, who picked up the 11th victory of his career and his second at Daytona, the first coming in the 2020 summer race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
“I can’t believe it. I wish my dad was here. He’s sick, but this is for him, man. We’ve been through so much, and we sat up in the grandstands together and watched the race (when Byron was younger). This is so freaking cool.”
Hendrick could barely contain his elation in Victory Lane.
“I’m telling you, you couldn’t write the script any better,” he said. “When we thought about coming down here the first time, we didn’t think we should be here, felt so out of place.
“We win this on our 40th to the day, it’s just… and tied a record now, so that’s awesome.”
Before the final restart, Chastain was racing at the front of the field on Lap 192 when a bump from Alex Bowman got Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron out of shape and knocked Byron into the right rear of Brad Keselowski’s Ford.
Keselowski turned up the track into the Ford of Joey Logano, who had led a race-high 45 laps to that point. Reigning series champion Ryan Blaney’s Ford was among the 23 cars involved in the accident that left string of mangled vehicles strewn along the backstretch.
The wreck knocked Blaney, Keselowski and Logano out of the race, along with Tyler Reddick, defending race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suarez and Todd Gilliland. NASCAR red-flagged the race for 15 minutes 27 seconds for track clean-up.
“Speedway racing again,” Logano said ruefully. “It’s a lot of fun until this happens. It was pretty interesting with a lot of pushing and shoving there at the end. Our car was able to take it. Our Mustang was so fast. It could lead a line really well. I kind of thought I had the cars I wanted around me. I had at least one I wanted around me, but just couldn’t make it work.”
“Obviously, hate what happened on that backstretch,” Byron said of the accident. “I just got pushed and got sideways. But so proud of this team, whole AXALTA team, 40th anniversary to the day, on Monday.
“Just extremely blessed and thankful for all the opportunities, and we just want to keep it going. We have a lot to prove this year, and this is a good start, obviously.”
How much Byron has yet to prove is debatable. He won a series-best six races last year, qualified for the Championship 4 and finished third in the final standings.
The race was not quite five laps old when an eight-car accident off Turn 4 started the inevitable attrition. Contact from Keselowski’s Ford in a tightly bunched line of the outside knocked the Toyota of John Hunter Nemechek into the center lane and into the side of Harrison Burton’s Ford.
Burton slid toward the infield, collecting the Chevrolet of Sunoco rookie Carson Hocevar. Burton’s No. 21 Mustang shot up the track and slammed into the Ford of Kaz Grala and the Chevrolet of Austin Dillon. Behind Dillon, Hocevar careened into the path of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, who couldn’t avoid the collision.
The wreck eliminated the cars of Burton, Hocevar and Grala. Dillon took his No. 3 Chevy to the garage for extensive repairs, and Johnson lost two laps on pit road as his Legacy Motor Club crew worked frantically to repair his Camry.
“I don’t remember exactly who it was on my outside,” Burton said after a trip to the infield care center. “It just looked like they either got a bad push or got loose and just hit me in the right side and sent me across.
“The grass was so wet that once I got in the grass, I thought I’d be OK, but the car just kept going and going… so really sad that our day is over as quick as it was. We had a really fast Ford. It’s just a bummer. There’s nothing we can do but just move on and try to win next week.”
It took 187 more laps of racing before the colossal wreck that dwarfed the earlier incident thinned the field and set up the fight to the finish among the cars that survived.
In a race that featured 41 lead changes among 20 drivers, Christopher Bell ran third, followed by Corey LaJoie, Bubba Wallace and AJ Allmendinger. Chastain, who didn’t have quite enough room when he dived to the inside of Cindric on the penultimate lap, finished 21st, one spot ahead of Cindric.
Austin Hill wins third straight NASCAR Xfinity opener at Daytona
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, FL — While other NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers were competing, and crashing, in Monday night’s United Rentals 300 at Daytona International Speedway, Austin Hill was playing a different game — Monopoly.
At the 2.5-mile superspeedway roughly two miles away from Atlantic Avenue, Hill beat former teammate Sheldon Creed to the finish line by 0.591 seconds to earn his third straight victory in the Xfinity season opener at the World Center of Racing.
The third win came on Monday because of weekend-long rain that forced NASCAR to reschedule the race from Saturday afternoon. The event served as the second leg of a doubleheader with the DAYTONA 500, which was postponed from Sunday and won by William Byron.
Hill has now owned Victory Lane at Daytona long enough to build a house there.
“It tops it off—three-peat,” Hill exclaimed. “You know how hard it is to win at Daytona? God almighty!”
Not that the driver of the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet didn’t have his share of adversity. Hill overcame an early wreck on Lap 37 of 120, a flat tire and a self-destructive bent on pit road.
He crossed the finish line in a car that was heavily taped on the right front, but none of the obstacles could stop him from displaying his superiority on superspeedways once again.
“I don’t know what was going on with me on pit road today,” Hill said. “But my guys just kept telling me, ‘Look, man, dig deep; you’re really good at these superspeedways.’ I tried to screw it up on pit road—sped on pit road, slid through the box…
“I don’t even know what time it is. I know it’s past my bedtime, but we’re about to party tonight, I can tell you that.”
After pitting with a flat tire on Lap 97, Hill restarted 22nd but quickly worked his way forward. Two more cautions helped, and after lining up third for the final restart on Lap 118, he made quick work of Jordan Anderson and Chandler Smith ahead of him.
Hill was out front by more than a car-length when Ryan Sieg spun behind him off Turn 2 on the final lap. From that point, Hill simply had to steer his car to the finish line and won by a comfortable margin.
Parker Retzlaff ran third, one spot in front of his owner/driver Anderson.
“The little team that could is getting bigger,” Anderson said proudly.
Chandler Smith came home fifth, followed by Riley Herbst, John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones and AJ Allmendinger.
The race featured nine cautions for 44 of the 120 laps. There were 19 lead changes among 14 different drivers., with Sunoco rookie Jesse Love, the pole winner, leading a race-high 32 laps from the opening green flag.
Love, however, suffered more damage in the Lap 37 wreck than did his RCR teammate Hill. He finished 20th in an aerodynamically-challenged Chevrolet.
New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen, winner of last year’s NASCAR Cup Series Chicago Street Race, drove his battered Kaulig Racing Chevrolet to a 12th-place finish in his Xfinity debut.
NASCAR Xfiniti Daytona Results
Nick Sanchez scores first victory in wild NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck race
By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, FL — With trucks wrecking and flipping behind him in overtime, Nick Sanchez claimed the first NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series victory of his young NASCAR career in Friday night’s Fresh From Florida 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
The race ended under caution on the second lap of the overtime after Rajah Caruth, running fourth, moved up the track and turned the No. 91 Chevrolet of Jack Wood in front of the field.
Sanchez and runner-up Corey Heim were clear of the chaos, and Caruth escaped with minimal damage to run third. But behind them, the Chevy of Daniel Dye launched the Toyota of Taylor Gray, which flipped in mid-air and landed upright on its tires in a gaggle of mangled vehicles.
All told 12-trucks were involved in the wreck, which caused the record 12th caution of the evening.
Coincidentally, Sanchez rallied from a 13-truck crash on Lap 6 to score the victory for his No. 2 Rev Racing Chevrolet team in his sophomore season.
“It’s huge,” Sanchez said. “We spent all of last year trying to get a win. I knew coming into this year I knew that I had to, right? What better race than to do it than Daytona? Honestly, out of every race, if I was going to do it, this would have been the last one (I expected), but happy to do it. It’s awesome.
“I just knew I had to lead at the white flag, because they were probably going to wreck. I’m glad they wrecked — if everyone is OK. I’m just happy.
“It’s huge. Obviously, we have a new technical partner in Spire (Motorsports)—our first race with them. What a better way to start a partnership. Gainbridge (sponsor) has stuck with me. They were winless last year. They all deserve it, and they’re going to celebrate with me.”
Caruth was thankful for his third-place finish, but he rued the wreck that ended the race.
“I’m trying to play it back differently in the last laps, but thank you to everybody at Spire Motorsports, HendrickCars.com, the Hendrick Automotive Group, and Mr. H (Hendrick) for what they’ve done for me along with everybody at Spire and Chevy,” Carruth said.
“Man, I felt like I got a bad push there, and you’re already getting tight off of the corner, and everybody is going for all they have on the last lap. I feel terrible to see trucks like that torn up. I hope Taylor (Gray) is all right. But a good night to start the year.”
Fifty-one of the 101 laps were run under caution, and it didn’t take long for the action to start. The first major incident KO’d a handful of drivers.
On the backstretch on Lap 6 of a scheduled 100 circuits, a shove from Christian Eckes’ Chevrolet turned the Ford of three-time series champion Matt Crafton into the Ford of Layne Riggs, igniting a 13-truck accident that eliminated Ty Dillon, Thad Moffitt and Jake Garcia.
With his team unable to effect repairs on his No. 38 Ford F-150, Riggs took his Truck to the garage under caution on Lap 17.
“Chaos, a lot of craziness — everybody was just kind of all over the place,” Dillon said after a mandatory trip to the infield care center. “I’ve never seen anything look like that from behind the wheel four laps into a race.
“With my experience, I knew something like that was going to happen. That’s why I got myself to the bottom to hopefully have a spot to bail. And sure enough, it happened. I thought I got through… I hit the grass and it knocked the tires out of my hand, and I was trying to catch it with the throttle…
“Just hate to be taken out so early and not have a chance.”
The Lap 6 incident was a harbinger of the chaos to come.
Defending series champion Ben Rhodes saw a good night turn bad when Tyler Ankrum door-slammed his Ford on Lap 68. Rhodes pitted with a flat tire a lap later, but after leaving the pits, he spun and crashed as the lead packed tried to dodge the No. 99 Ford in the center of the track.
Rhodes exited the race, and soon after, Johhny Sauter was an innocent victim of a four-truck wreck off Turn 4—after leading 24 laps, second only to Sanchez’s 26.
Bret Holmes finished fourth, followed by Spencer Boyd. Stefan Parsons, Crafton, Timmy Hill, Bryan Dauzat and Eckes completed the top 10.
NASCAR Trucks Daytona Results