14 races after his split with Knaus, Jimmie Johnson says they still get some time to hang out

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Jimmie Johnson and former Crew Chief Chad Knaus share a hug after bumping into each other in the Michigan International Speedway garage before the first practice for the FireKeepers Casino 400 June 7. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

By Eric Young

BROOKLYN, Mich. — It’s been 14 races since Chad Knaus last crew chiefed a race for Jimmie Johnson — Kevin Meendering took over this year at Daytona ending a partnership that went back to 2002.

Before the first practice session Friday at Michigan International Speedway, Johnson and Knaus bumped into each other in the garage and shared a hug and a few moments of conversation.

Johnson said the two have had a chance this year to spend some time together despite the split.

“Yeah, on the Easter off weekend, we were able to spend the day together,” Johnson said. “We were both vacationing near one and other and we did connect and have some fun. So yeah, we see each other. But not as much as we used to since we’re not working together. But we have a friendship and a bond. Our work life strained it for a few years there, but it didn’t impact it and we are still great friends.”

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Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson chat in the garage at Michigan International Speedway June 7. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

Johnson’s slide has continued into the 2019 season. He hasn’t won a race in more than two years and only has one top-five finish this season. But he said things have been going well so far with Meendering.

“They are going well,” Johnson said. “We want more. We need to be doing better than we are, but he is a great guy, a hardworking guy. We just need some more speed in our Ally Chevy.”

Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 has a little extra on the line, as Meendering hails from nearby Grand Rapids, making MIS his home track. But Johnson said Meendering hasn’t mentioned any extra motivation for the win this weekend.

“No, he hasn’t said anything,” Johnson said. “I think there is an unspoken desire to do well through the whole season. Doesn’t matter the specific track. But as you bring it up, I do know he is from this area and hopefully we can give him something good close to home.”

So how close are they getting to putting everything together?

“Some weekends we feel like we are there,” Johnson said. “Last weekend we had some mechanical issues that we learned about post-race, which put the sting in our performance. It just depends on the weekend or the hour. We live and die by the stopwatch, unfortunately.”

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