CONCORD, N.C. -- Has life as NASCAR Cup Series champions sunk in for Kyle Larson and Cliff Daniels? Not one bit.
It’s been one week since the driver and crew chief of the No. 5 team have claimed their first Cup Series title after winning at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7. Even though they hoisted the Bill France Cup at the track, celebrated after the race and did all the media tours, both Larson and Daniels said their 2021 season still seems surreal.
“We’ve already moved on to next year,” Larson said. “You don’t get time to settle down and really appreciate it. You don’t want to, either. I don’t ever just want to calm down and be like, “Wow, I’m satisfied with how that year went.’ I want to already look forward to next year, as well. I think it’s many years down the road when you really appreciate it. I think it’s when multiple generations behind you start talking about that season is when you really can appreciate it.”
Daniels agreed with Larson and added that they are used to pushing so hard that they want to keep that momentum going into next season. He said it’s not going to be until years down the road that he can look back and let it sink in that he and Larson earned a title in their first season together.
“We want it to be more than one season like this,” Daniels said. “I think that’s what we’re both getting at. It would be amazing to do it again and again. We’ve seen it done before, and it’s hard to think that it can be done in this era that we’re in, but you never know.”
Larson and Daniels had one of the most epic Cup seasons in recent history. The duo earned 10 wins, took the checkered flag at the All-Star Race and posted 20 top-five finishes and 26 top-10s in 36 races. Larson also led the series in laps led (2,581 – a Hendrick Motorsports record) and won five of the 10 playoff races this year.
Larson’s original goal entering 2021 was to win a race or two – he never expected to have two three-race win streaks and get Daniels double-digit wins as a crew chief. According to Larson, it was Daniels’ leadership that made the No. 5 team a championship-caliber team.
“Cliff’s leadership and communication, I would say, are two of his best qualities,” Larson said. “I feel like he is the definition of a Cup Series crew chief. You know, the football coach-type person and personality. He’s obviously really smart with the engineering background and knows how to make a race car go fast. I think what makes him stand out above others is how he treats others – the level of respect he has for everyone in the shop, the standard that he holds everyone to, and they have a lot of respect for him in return and they know he holds them to a high standard. They’re always working as hard as they can and they’re always acting professional.
“Just how he leads is what makes him the best.”