CONCORD, N.C. – For the No. 48 team, Cliff Daniels as crew chief is a natural fit.
“Going back to his origins, he bleeds that 48 team mentality,” Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Jeff Andrews said.
Daniels first joined the organization in 2014 as a race engineer for the No. 48 team. He held that position for four seasons, earning 17 wins and a NASCAR Cup Series championship along the way, all the while building a rapport with his teammates and driver, Jimmie Johnson.
Change came in the offseason following the 2018 campaign, however, as the Smithfield, Virginia, native moved into a new role with Hendrick Motorsports’ competition systems group.
There, he helped develop a new simulation tool and also served as a liaison for new, young engineers joining the organization.
“That was fun for me,” the 31-year-old said. “It was a big change of pace to learn different tools, really flex my engineering degree and some of the knowledge that I just haven’t used in years more in the simulation and coding side of things.”
But as the 2019 season progressed, the team side of things came calling once again.
In June at Sonoma Raceway, Daniels rejoined the No. 48 team as a race engineer.
“Instantly when he went back in there, there’s just a respect level,” Andrews said. “It seemed like that bond picked back up very quickly.”
Johnson finished the Sonoma race in 12th, then followed that up with a fourth-place finish at Chicago and a third-place result at Daytona.
“Cliff coming back at Sonoma, there was just such a spark that he brought,” the driver recalled.
Daniels fit right back in with the group, and right away he saw the passion and effort that Johnson was bringing to the racetrack each and every week.
“We did in a lot of ways pick up where we left off,” the crew chief said, “and then in some new ways I’ve actually commented to him several times his fire is so intense right now.”
Now, as Daniels is set to climb atop the pit box for the first time this weekend as crew chief, he’s looking for the team to harness that intensity and use the final five races of the regular season to push into the playoffs.
“If you look at the last four or five weeks, we have been top 10 or better contenders every time,” he said. “Is that where we want to be? Absolutely not. We don’t just have expectations, we have the highest expectations on the 48. So, just being a top-10 team isn’t good enough. But for the context that we’re in right now, taking that, building on it, executing properly, is where we’re going to go to make ourselves be the top-level contender that we know we can be.”