A significant milestone start is in the making for Cliff Daniels, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning crew chief for Kyle Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team. By participating in this weekend’s Cup event at Kansas Speedway, Daniels will call his 100th race as a crew chief in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native of Smithfield, Virginia, Daniels, who father, Charlie, was a former full-time late model stock car competitor, grew up as a competitor, where he drove go-karats, bandoleros and legends cars. While finishing his educational studies at Hampton Roads Academy in Newport News, Virginia, Daniels competed in late models at South Boston Speedway. Despite retiring as a competitor, Daniels went on to achieve an engineering degree as the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He also worked as a mechanic for an ARCA/Xfinity Series team. After graduating with his degree at UNCC in 2010, Daniels joined RAB Racing the following year and worked as a race engineer for the team and their driver, Kenny Wallace.
After spending 2013 and 2014 as a race engineer for Stewart-Haas Racing and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, Daniels joined Hendrick Motorsports and served as a race engineer for the No. 48 Chevrolet team piloted by six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Over the next three seasons, Daniels contributed to Johnson winning 13 races and the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series championship, which marked Johnson’s record-tying seventh of his career.
Daniels started the 2019 NASCAR season working in Hendrick Motorsports’ competition systems before becoming a lead engineer for Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team. In late July, Daniels was promoted to the role of crew chief for Johnson, beginning at Watkins Glen International, as he replaced Kevin Meendering. Making his crew chief debut at The Glen in August, Daniels and Johnson finished 19th after Johnson was involved in an on-track skirmish with Ryan Blaney. Finishing as high as 16th at Darlington Raceway in September and averaging a finishing result of 24.6 during their first five races together, Johnson and Daniels failed to make the 2019 Cup Playoffs, which marked Johnson’s first time missing the Playoffs. Johnson and Daniels went on to achieve four top-10 results during the final 10 Cup races of the season before Johnson capped off the 2019 season in 18th place in the final standings.
Daniels remained as Johnson’s crew chief for the 2020 Cup season, which marked Johnson’s 18th and final full-time season in NASCAR. Commencing the season with a 35th-place result in the Daytona 500, Johnson and Daniels earned four top-five results and nine top-10 results in 25 of the 26-race regular-season stretch. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, Johnson, who had tested positive for COVID-19, was replaced by Xfinity Series veteran Justin Allgaier, who finished 37th following an early multi-car incident on pit road. When the regular-season stretch concluded at Daytona in August, Johnson and Daniels missed the Playoff cutline for a second consecutive season. Both went on to cap the 2020 Cup season in fifth place in the season-finale event at Phoenix Raceway in November and in 18th place in the final standings before Johnson retired.
In 2021, Daniels, who remained at HMS, was named crew chief for the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team piloted by Kyle Larson, who returned to full-time NASCAR competition following a one-year suspension. Four races into the 2021 season, Daniels achieved his first NASCAR career win as a crew chief when Larson scored a dominant victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.
Eleven races and four runner-up results later, Daniels and Larson recorded a historic victory for Hendrick Motorsports in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, a victory that made HMS the all-time winningest team with 269. The hot streak for Daniels, Larson and the No. 5 HMS team did not stop there as they won at Sonoma Raceway, the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway and the inaugural Cup event at Nashville Superspeedway. Another six races later, the combo collected their fifth victory of the 2021 season at Watkins Glen in August. By virtue of achieving five victories, 14 top-five results and 18 top-10 results throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch, Daniels and Larson captured the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season title.
Entering the 2021 Cup Playoffs as a championship favorite, Daniels and Larson commenced the postseason with a runner-up result in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in September. Two races later, the combo picked up their seventh victory of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway under the lights in September. Advancing from the Round of 16 to the Round of 12, the No. 5 HMS Chevrolet team advanced to the Round of 8 after winning the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course in October. During the following two weekends, Daniels and Larson kept the postseason momentum continuing and earned a one-way ticket to the Championship Round at Phoenix Raceway in November after winning at Texas and at Kansas Speedway in the Round of 8.
During the finale at Phoenix, Daniels and Larson captured their first championship in the NASCAR Cup Series after Larson, who received a stellar service from the No. 5 pit crew under the final 30 laps, fended off veteran Martin Truex Jr. to win the finale for his season-high 10th victory of the season and to deliver the 14th Cup title for Hendrick Motorsports. In the process, Daniels became the sixth different crew chief representing Hendrick Motorsports to achieve a Cup championship.
Remaining as Larson’s crew chief this season, Daniels led the No. 5 team to an early season victory at Auto Club Speedway in late February. To go along with this year’s Daytona 500 pole, five top-five results and six top-10 results through the first 11 scheduled events, Daniels and Larson are currently ranked in ninth place in the regular season standings with a guaranteed spot for the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs.
Through 99 previous Cup appearances, Daniels has achieved one championship, 11 victories, three poles, 30 top-five results and 46 top-10 results while working with three different competitors.
Daniels is scheduled to call his 100th Cup Series career event as a crew chief at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. ET on FS1.