It was a no-brainer.
How could you keep a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion with 83 career victories out of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility?
Clearly, the Hall of Fame Voting Panel agreed with the absurdity of that prospect, electing Jimmie Johnson overwhelmingly to the Class of 2024.
Joining Johnson in next year‘s class is the crew chief who guided him to those seven championships and 81 of his 83 Cup wins.
Chad Knaus, widely considered an inseparable part of the Hendrick Motorsports pairing that won a record five straight Cup titles from 2006 through 2010, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall in 2024 alongside his driver.
As announced by NASCAR president Steve Phelps at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday, the Hendrick duo will be joined by Donnie Allison, who was chosen from five nominees as the 2024 inductee from the Pioneer Class.
In addition, Phelps announced that motorsports pioneer Janet Guthrie, who finished 15th in the 1976 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in her NASCAR debut, will receive the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
Johnson was named on 93 percent of the Modern Era ballots cast on Voting Day at the Charlotte Convention Center. After three starts in NASCAR‘s foremost division late in 2001, Johnson—with Knaus as his crew chief—made an immediate mark on the sport during his 2002 rookie season.
After earning the pole position for the season-opening Daytona 500, Johnson went on to win three times, claiming his first Cup victory at his home track in Fontana, Calif., before adding a pair of wins at Dover, which would become one of his most productive tracks.
For the next 15 years, the 47-year-old native of El Cajon, Calif., would win at least two races per season on the way to his 83 total—tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth-most all-time. Johnson‘s high-water mark came in 2007, when he won 10 times en route to his second straight championship.
To secure that title, Johnson needed a remarkable run of four straight victories in races six through nine of the Chase to overtake Hendrick teammate and fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, after the two drivers battled head-to-head for most of the season.
Johnson won three more titles in the next three years, eclipsing Yarborough‘s record of three straight fashioned from 1976 through 1978.
Adding championships in 2013 and 2016, Johnson earned the nickname “Seven-Time” for tying inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame Class members Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the Cup Series record.
Even though he was an obvious choice, the selection nevertheless seemed surreal to Johnson.
“I know—and I feel like Chad feels much the same—we just wanted to go racing,” Johnson said. “From a very young age, racing was in our life. Our parents raced, our families raced. We just wanted to be racers.
“And sure, I know I tried to dream big, but I couldn‘t have dreamt this big. And to have everything play out as it has—even looking back on those moments in time, with five in a row and seven championships in total, the super moments along the way—I still can‘t believe it‘s happened.
“I guess it‘s just… when you‘re a kid, dream big, and who knows, it might end up happening.”
Knaus received 81 percent of Modern Era votes. His record is inexorably linked to Johnson‘s, with a couple of notable exceptions. In 2006, Johnson won the first of his two Daytona 500s and the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas while Knaus was serving a four-race suspension for aerodynamic alterations to the rear window of the No. 48 Chevrolet made before qualifying at Daytona.
Substituting for Knaus, Darian Grubb is the crew chief of record for those two victories.
In 2020, Knaus added a win to his record that‘s not part of Johnson‘s resume. Knaus guided William Byron to his first Cup victory in the August race at Daytona before turning the crew chief reins over to Rudy Fugle the following season, as Knaus assumed the role of vice president of competition at Hendrick.
Up until the moment his name was called, Knaus wasn‘t convinced he would be selected in his first year of eligibility.
“As I was watching the video that played, once Jimmie was nominated, and I saw the way we grew up together,” Knaus said, “and as I sat back and was watching him, and I was thinking, ‘My gosh, how much I‘ve learned throughout my career just because of Jimmie,‘ and I was really proud of that.
“I was probably more proud of the fact that he‘s in there than actually I am. For me personally, it‘s a huge, huge day. Very, very proud. Very proud of everybody that‘s helped me, and it‘s an honor to be here with Jimmie.
“I wouldn‘t be here if it wasn‘t for Jimmie Johnson, in a lot of different ways.”
Allison, one of the founding members of the famed “Alabama Gang,” was named on 53 percent of the Pioneer ballots, with car builder Banjo Matthews second in the voting. Allison follows brother Bobby Allison, a member of the inaugural class, into the Hall.
Ironically, in each of Donnie Allison‘s first three NASCAR Cup Series victories, Bobby followed Donnie, as the brothers ran 1-2 at Rockingham in 1968, Charlotte in 1969 and Bristol in 1970.
All told, Donnie Allison won 10 times at NASCAR‘s highest level, but he is perhaps more famous for a race he didn‘t win. Allison was leading the 1979 Daytona 500 when he and Cale Yarborough banged fenders repeatedly on the final lap, ultimately eliminating both cars.
The drivers exited their crippled machines and confronted each other, with Bobby Allison soon joining the fray. That race, the first NASCAR event with live flag-to-flag coverage on national television, and the fight that followed put the sport on the map.
“It‘s really nice,” Allison said during an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It‘s the culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of patience.
“It‘s always been a joy to be a part of racing like I‘ve been. To have a career like I had and to go on to help young guys like Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, different guys like that, and my grandson Justin, it‘s just an honor to be inducted into this Hall of Fame.”
Guthrie raced sports cars and IndyCars before making her foray into NASCAR racing. In 33 NASCAR Cup Series starts, she posted five top 10s, with a best finish of sixth at Bristol in 1977.
— NASCAR Wire Service–