CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Larson and Cliff Daniels wrapped up a NASCAR Cup Series season for the record books on Sunday when they took the checkered flag at Phoenix Raceway and won their first Cup championship.
Both the driver and crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE are still in awe that they not only won the Cup title but that they did so after winning 10 total races this season, including five of the 2021 playoff races. The duo also captured the NASCAR All-Star Race win, posted 20 top-five results, 26 top-10s, two pole awards and led a series record of 2,581 laps in 36 races.
“I didn’t know that we would have a season like this. I thought — with Chase (Elliott) winning last year, I knew we would be strong, but I didn’t think that we would ever win double-digit races in the Cup Series,” Larson said. “This isn’t anything that I thought I would ever do in the Cup Series, double-digit wins and winning the championship, winning half the playoff races.”
The year was a banner season for Daniels, as well. In just his second full-time season atop the pit box, Daniels went from not having won a race to earning a championship in the span of 10 months. While he knew he’s be working with a talented driver in Larson, he didn’t expect to become the first team to win 10 races since Jimmie Johnson’s did so in 2007.
“If you ask any crew chief in the Cup garage, ‘Hey, you’re going to win 10 races plus the All-Star and you’re going to win the championship,’ do you believe that’s going to happen? Everybody would be like, ‘Man, that’s crazy,’” Daniels said.
“You can’t really script what has happened for our team this year, and I really think that it’s been God’s hands and what has led us to this point, giving (Rick Hendrick) the vision to bring Kyle back and to mentor Kyle the way that he has, to put our team together with him, to even believe in our team.”
Larson looked like he was out of contention toward the end of stage three after he was running fourth behind the other three Championship 4 drivers. However, a caution on lap 282 allowed the field to pit and gave Larson a chance for a good restart. The No. 5 pit crew posted an incredible 11.79-second four-tire stop that allowed Larson to jump over the first three drivers and restart first. He led the final 25 laps en route to the title.
As the reality sank in, Larson wept openly in his car as he took the championship flag around the track.
“(Sunday) was more tears than normal, I think, just because of the significance of the event, of the journey that it took to get here, and just — I think just everything, the atmosphere of the race, all the friends and family I had here today, my crew and the hard work that they put in all year,” Larson said.
“I felt just a big relief that I was able to win for them and get to enjoy it with them.”