CONCORD, N.C. – This Sunday, Cliff Daniels, crew chief of the No. 5 team, will make his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at Darlington Raceway, an event he has had circled on his calendar since his first showing at the South Carolina venue with the No. 5 team in May.
In his first race at Darlington for Hendrick Motorsports, No. 5 driver Kyle Larson notched a second-place result after battling hard against the rest of the field. With one race under their belts at the 1.366-mile venue, Daniels and Larson have new notes and an updated game plan to improve on their first appearance together.
“Returning to some of these places is going to be very valuable, even Darlington, to start the playoffs,” Daniels said. “We ran second there at the end, struggled mid-portion of the race and had a speeding penalty on pit road. We just need to clean up a few things from the speed, balance of our car and make sure we get our stuff right on pit road.
“We certainly aren’t going to take for granted any of the success we have had at some of these places. We are going to treat it like a new week and a new track and be a student of the game, but it’s definitely nice to have the notes to fall back on.”
Since the beginning of the year, Larson and Daniels have seen their relationship develop from both a professional and personal standpoint, which has led to success on the track. This season, the duo has collected five wins, four coming after the race at Darlington in May, 14 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s.
“Personally, we have gotten to know each other just a bit more naturally just from spending the whole year together and I know all of that has just helped us understand each other in the middle of the race,” Daniels said. “If something doesn’t go our way, I pretty much know how he is going to react and respond and he knows that of me. We just put our heads together, get to work and try to maximize our day or make the best of our situation.”
Daniels will make his sixth appearance as a crew chief at Darlington on Sunday. In his first five starts, he has one top-five finish and two top-10s. The 33-year-old crew chief’s passion for the track extends beyond his success calling the shots during the race and bleeds into what the venue means to NASCAR.
“Each end of the track is so unique,” Daniels said. “It’s not only a different turning radius, but there’s different banking between the two ends, the bumps, the track content is so different between the two ends that the racer aspect of the track is so unique - that’s what makes it fun. Plus, it has all the old-school southern heritage of the sport around the area and around the track. The nostalgia that you get when you walk into Darlington is pretty cool.”
Be sure to tune in this Sunday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN to see Daniels, Larson and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports teams take on Darlington in the first race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.