CONCORD, N.C. – By now, it’s the speech heard around the NASCAR world.
Crew chief Cliff Daniels had watched his driver Kyle Larson have what he would later call a "brutal" first half of the race last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion had to start at the back after a practice incident on Saturday, he made contact with the wall early in the race, the team had several pit road penalties and miscues that saw him restart from the back of the field three times and the No. 5 went for a spin – all before the 200-lap mark of the scheduled 400-lap race.
Before the Elk Grove, California, native would rally in the second half of the event to grab the lead on lap 354 and hold the point position for the first NASCAR Overtime restart, Daniels gave his driver a motivation pick me up after the first half of the race.
"In the first half, all I want you to remember is how good TV we made," Daniels told his driver over the radio, which was later aired during the race. "We went from the back to the front more times than I can count. We hit the wall. We spun out. We literally caught on fire. We were also the most penalized team on pit road in the first half. All that means is that in the second half, already we’re going to be starting way better than what we started the first half. We’ve got to go execute right now. Starts with this pit stop. Then, it’s going to be the restart. Then, it’s going to be whatever comes our way after that. So I don’t know what the hell you’re worried about, but I’m fine, the team’s fine. Everybody down here is nodding their heads and giving a thumbs-up, so let’s go."
In the end, Larson would recover from being involved in a multi-car incident on the first green-white-checkered attempt to finish ninth for his eighth top-10 result of the season. The duo of Daniels and Larson now have three top-fives and five top-10s in their last six races this season.
"I am so proud of our team and I’m so thankful for the guys that we have," Daniels told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday. "We have a great mix of guys that are young racers and they have good grit and know how to be tough. And then we have some guys on our team that are experienced. They’ve been around awhile. They’ve seen a thing or two. They don’t get rattled too easily. We were the worst team in America for 200 laps. We were so bad.
"After all that, our car wasn’t wrecked bad. Larson’s, Larson right? You get him out front. You get him with a shot to win, he’s going to be great. Our pit crew is all the same guys that had the money stop that won the championship last year so they know how to be tough under pressure. We just had to shake it off. We had opportunities to work on the car and get back in the game. We just had to get over ourselves and keep moving and we did."
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The leadership abilities of his crew chief are not lost on the 29-year-old driver, who is in his second season with Hendrick Motorsports.
"Cliff’s a great leader and he knows exactly when to say the right thing," Larson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week. "I needed to hear that because I was pouting in my helmet from the race I was having in the first half. It was nice to hear that on the radio. Kind of helped me get over it a little bit more than I was already starting to get over it.
"Love having him lead my team and I believe he’s the best leader in the garage."
Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager Jeff Andrews noted that it’s the adversity that helps bond a group together. It is easy to forget that even though they had fast success together with a title in year one, the Daniels-Larson combo has only been together for 50 points-paying races entering Sunday’s event.
"You are really starting to see those two guys grow into each other and have a bond and a belief in each other," Andrews said. "That takes time. That doesn’t happen in six months or eight months and certainly you go win a championship together and that helps. You really test those relationships when you get yourselves in situations like those two were in on Sunday night."
The ability to take what looks like a rough day and make something of it goes back to the 2021 championship-winning crew chief’s time working with the legendary duo of seven-time Cup champions Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. The Smithfield, Virginia, native served as a race engineer for the No. 48 team from 2015 to 2018 and was part of the 2016 title team. He would later be Johnson’s crew chief for the latter half of the 2019 season and all of Johnson’s final Cup season in 2020.
"I am so thankful to have learned from both Jimmie and Chad and working with them for so many years," Daniels said. "I think the nature of that mentality was just kind of natural with how they led the team and how all that was. This is the carry on of Jimmie’s team. We changed car numbers and we got Kyle last year, but that’s just how we think. That’s how we operate."
Now, the next task at hand is for Daniels to get the No. 5 team ready to race at a track yet to host a Cup Series race. WWT Raceway, located outside of St. Louis, is a 1.25-mile oval that hosted NASCAR Xfinity Series races from 1997 to 2010 and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events from 1998 to 2010 and from 2014 to the present. He has spent the week refreshing himself on the track and trying to anticipate what the Next Gen car is going to be like there.
Teams will get a practice session on Friday afternoon (5:05 p.m. ET, FS1) before qualifying on Saturday morning (11 a.m. ET, FS1)
"I think everybody is probably doing their homework the best they can," Daniels said. "There was a wheel-force test a couple weeks ago. Goodyear had some tires for them to run. I’m sure everybody is reaching out to their respective OEMs trying to take in all the information that they can. You’ve got iRacing. You’ve got the driver and the loop simulators that everybody uses, so we’re all trying to do our homework as fast as we can now. Practice is only 50 minutes. You are not going to be able to overhaul your car in practice. You are going to just have to tune on it and hope you unload pretty close."
Tune in to the 15th race of the Cup season and the first at WWTR on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.