CONCORD, N.C. – Those who desire to work with the best often end up elevating their game in the process. For Jesse Saunders, car chief of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, this saying is a summary of his time in the racing industry.
Since 2013, Saunders has been employed at Hendrick Motorsports and has been a member of three NASCAR Cup Series championships, with Jimmie Johnson in 2013 and 2016 as well as Kyle Larson in 2021.
Hailing from New Glarus, Wisconsin, Saunders’ path to the Cup Series garage began on the racetrack as a driver. Although his time behind the wheel wrapped up in his 20s, he quickly moved into a role in Sandusky, Ohio, working with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series organization.
“I was probably like most in the NASCAR garage, I wanted to be a racer,” said Saunders. "Plan B was working in the sport. Getting paid to work on race cars is just as cool as getting to drive them. It’s worked out pretty well so far.”
By 2013, Saunders was recruited by Hendrick Motorsports and joined the organization as a mechanic with Johnson and the No. 48 team. After two championships with Johnson, Saunders was promoted to the role of car chief ahead of the 2018 season. Following Johnson’s departure from full-time Cup Series racing at the end of the 2020 season, Saunders and the No. 48 team moved over to work with Larson and the newly rebranded No. 5 group for 2021.
In their first season with Larson behind the wheel, the team won 10 races, aided by Saunders’ hard work at the shop during the week. The effort resulted in public praise from crew chief Cliff Daniels as one of the reasons the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was able to find victory lane at Phoenix Raceway.
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For Saunders, the success of the team does not come from one individual. Rather, he believes that his team operates without egos getting in the way, a characteristic that pushes the group to be better with each race under Daniels’ leadership.
“The team is built with not much ego," said Saunders. "A lot of our success comes from that and good leadership. Cliff (Daniels) is amazing for that; he’s made for that job. If you put a lot of guys together that want to compete, you’re already better off than most teams.”
Catch Saunders and the No. 5 team this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. See all the action at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, MRN Radio, and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).