Cliff Daniels: 5 Team Is ‘Built For The Long Haul’


Cliff Daniels, the crew chief for driver Kyle Larson. (Nigel Kinrade/NKP photo)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Amid the chaos of the closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history, Cliff Daniels was – as he often is – cool, calm, and collected Sunday night at Kansas Speedway.

While onlookers were confused and stunned as first Chris Buescher, and then Kyle Larson, were shown as the winner of the AdventHealth 400 on timing and scoring, Larson’s crew chief was almost stoic atop the pit box during the video review by NASCAR officials.

The stop-motion photo at the start-finish line confirmed what Daniels hoped for as the excitement of the checkered flag moment began to settle: that Larson was, in fact, the victor by the narrowest of margins.

“My timing and scoring showed us P2 with a 0.00 gap, but I’m so proud of Kyle,” said Daniels in the immediate aftermath. “That was a great drive to the finish, really on a day where we just had to grind it out. At times we were the best car, at times we weren’t … we had a pit stop that got away from us, and the guys rebounded flawlessly from that.

“All in all, this team is built for the long haul, and I think they showed that today,” he added. “Kyle did a great job at the end, like I said, and this is just a really cool day for our team. It was an awesome finish.”

Once Daniels got a chance to meet with the media after the race, he was able to reflect more completely on the moment when his driver was announced as the winner on the radio.

“It was certainly wild to watch. I was really hoping we had put the right adjustments in the car for what we needed for the short run, knowing that the caution had really kind of saved us from dying there at the end [of the race],” Daniels noted. “When we crossed the stripe, it flipped the 5 and the 17 [Buescher] … and Kyle asked me if we’d gotten it. I was like, ‘No, good effort, good fight today,’ and then Tyler [Monn, Larson’s spotter] started screaming.

“Yeah, that was a cool moment.”

Daniels was quick to note that the race’s final caution, which waved with seven laps left for a spin by Kyle Busch, helped to “save” Larson from disappointment after leading six times for 63 laps on the night.

Once he made a tweak to the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the crew put two fresh right-side tires on the car, the race was in Larson’s hands, and Daniels’ driver executed to perfection.

“I really enjoy a lot of the race craft behind what it is that we do, and Kyle and I talk about a lot of things during the week and even on a weekend,” Daniels explained. “When he has thoughts that he’s described to me before, and then he gets to go kind of play it out, that’s a lot of fun for me to watch because I know what he’s thinking. I know a lot of the things that are running through his mind and how forward thinking he is on a lot of those things. He's always thinking a corner or two ahead of where he actually is.

“I figured he had a pretty good plan. He executed it great.”

As the NASCAR industry was buzzing about the closest battle in the history of the sport’s premier level, Daniels tipped that Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval may be the best such track on the Cup Series schedule at the current time.

That was the moment afterwards when a smile and some animation crept into his voice.

“I think right now in the Next Gen era, the intermediate tracks in general are presenting such a good racing product because there are so many more tools that we have to work with from the pit box and [drivers] have to work with from inside the cockpit. Then you add that this is a place with so many lane options. There is a lot of tire degradation here.

“It presents a great storm for a good race, and we saw that tonight.”

Sunday was Daniels’ 18th career win as a Cup Series crew chief, all coming since the start of the 2021 season with Larson behind the wheel.

But as exciting as the Californian is behind the wheel, his success has been equally guided by Daniels atop the pit box, a voice that, more often than not, is steady even in the wildest of circumstances.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.