CONCORD, N.C. – No. 5 crew chief Cliff Daniels saw his team gave it their all to get Kyle Larson to victory lane at Phoenix Raceway for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship, but he recognized one teammate who spent countless hours at the shop working on the championship-winning Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
Jesse Saunders, the car chief of the No. 5 team, spent 36 hours in back-to-back days to get the No. 5 Chevy race ready. Since the championship weekend was a three-day show that included practice and qualifying, the team had to work on a tight timeline to ensure the haulers carrying the cars left by late Tuesday, Nov. 2 to get to Phoenix Raceway by Thursday, Nov. 4.
“Monday when we got back from Martinsville, Jesse was at the shop at 5:30 a.m.,” Daniels said. “He worked until 2 a.m. that night. He was back at 6 a.m. the next day. He worked until midnight on Tuesday, which is when we loaded our cars.
“If it weren’t for Jesse and the work that he did, I know we would not have made it, and I know we would not have had the car prepared as well as it was.”
This isn’t the first time Saunders’ hard work was recognized. Daniels lauded the car chief after his quick work to replace the alternator belt at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL during the playoff race on Oct. 10. The work done on the Chevrolets in both races helped give Larson the right adjustments to win each event.
“It’s nice that he recognizes it, but everyone on this team works hard,” Saunders said. “I don’t think you have to look very far to see it. It’s an honor and, obviously, when you know that the guy you are working for sees your work and sees how much you care, it’s obviously a good feeling. If anybody works hard on this team, (Daniels) is obviously the hardest worker, and we just follow that leadership.”
Saunders celebrated with the team in victory lane after Larson led the final 25 laps to the checkered flag and earned Hendrick Motorsports its 14th Cup Series title. The moment was like an extra present for Saunders, who also celebrated his birthday on Sunday.
“Everything on top of it is just sweeter,” Saunders said. “It being my birthday is just a sweet addition. All of it is great, but it just starts with the initial feeling of winning and the satisfaction of that. Doing it with guys who have worked tirelessly to get to this point and to see a lot of the guys get their first championship; all of that is at the end of the day is a very satisfactory feeling. It’s an accomplishment.”