Right Sides Only: Notes from the Coca-Cola 600 Winning Crew Chief, Cliff Daniels


Building a track record with a driver is valuable to a crew chief. He knows what works well at specific tracks and where to improve on the next visit. Cliff Daniels is building an incredible notebook of statistics with Kyle Larson with every single track, and he's nowhere near finished.

"Everywhere we go with Kyle right now and even for the next 10 or 15 weeks is a new race for us every week. I’ve never been to any of these places with Kyle before, so every week is a new week, and the foundation of the notebook that we’re trying to build, thankful that the year has gone the way it has, but we still have a lot of building to do.

"Sonoma is a bit of a different style road course than the ones that Hendrick Motorsports has been good at the last few years. Our last trip at Sonoma really wasn’t that great, so we’ve dug into some old notes for Sonoma as an example. So the same prep that we put into Charlotte for this week we’ve got to take to Sonoma next week just because we don’t have a great recent history of our cars running good there, so we’ve really got to make sure we show up strong," Daniels said. 

Daniels and Larson were certainly hitting on all cylinders in Charlotte, having won every stage as well as the season's longest race itself. 

"Points are always of concern for us. The more playoff points you can carry into the playoffs is always going to be those tokens in the bank that you never know if you’re going to need. 

"I can’t say that I expected we were going to get them all the way we did today, so that was really cool that that happened, and yeah, the competition is so tight right now, thankful that the Hendrick Motorsports cars are running as good as we are. The Chevrolets are fast, but Denny is still out there with a really big points lead, and those guys have a had a strong year, so always keeping our eye out for maximizing stage points, maximizing stage finishing positions, and certainly it worked out today," Daniels explained.

Lots of things worked out well for the No. 5 team on Sunday afternoon/evening and well, during many other races this season. Daniels credits his pit crew for making significant strides.

"Our pit crew, we went through a bit of a building process last year. One of our guys actually stepped away at the end of the year, and we got a new jack man in, so we had to do some work just getting our team kind of up to speed and working together, and now those guys are just lights out. They do a phenomenal job. They’re a great working group together. The camaraderie is strong.

"So knowing that one of our strengths is physically pitting the car, the guys do such a good job, I’m actually excited when I see a green flag pit cycle come around because I know that’s one of our strengths.

"And then we study a lot maximizing pit-ins, and Kyle is really good at that. He’s great at deep braking zones and figuring out how to get the car whoa’d up when it’s moving around and it’s all over the place. It’s kind of natural for him.

"With that, those two pieces, and then timing is another big thing, understanding the falloff in a race, do you pit early, do you pit late within the cycle, and we’ve had to brush up a good bit on our own understanding of that last year to what we’ve taken this year. So many different factors, and it’s all kind of coming together okay," Daniels said.

As much credit as Daniels gives to the pit crew, he's quick to give credit to his driver, too.

"Obviously one of the biggest things that I’ve learned, and this is going to sound really obvious to say, he [Larson] spends so much time reading a dirt track for all of these races that he goes to. He watches every series that ends up on track, and he really studies what’s going on with the racetrack.

"So for us, the more I can give him information on what I anticipate for our pavement surfaces going into a weekend, whether it’s PJ1, clouds versus sun, temp changes, things like that, that’s something that’s just very natural for him, and again, that’s what he spends a lot of his time doing to make him good on the dirt tracks. So again, it may sound obvious to say, but that’s probably the biggest thing," Daniels explained.

As well as the No. 5 team has run in recent weeks, some may question how much information the team can carry into the playoffs later this year since their successes over the last few races have been on tracks that aren't featured in the final 10 races. 

"[At] Darlington we had a strong run at the end of the race, but we weren’t as good as we needed to be for the playoffs, so that was the first of our second-place-finish runs. We took a pretty different approach from Darlington to Dover that if Darlington hadn’t had have happened, we wouldn’t have taken to Dover. So then we took that to Dover, ran really strong. That’s going to carry over to Nashville, and I think that what we learned from Dover and hopefully what we learned from Nashville, yes, completely different racing surfaces, yes, it sounds crazy to draw some of these parallels that I’m making, I think just with the 750 [horsepower] package in general, we did learn and improve from Darlington to Dover and again hopefully we take that to Nashville, that I think can help us for a place like Darlington.

As one example, Kansas comes back around, we led a lot of laps at Kansas, didn’t work out for us. Vegas is a playoff track. Hopefully that bodes well. We passed the whole field three times after speeding on pit road and starting in the back in Phoenix, right, and Phoenix hopefully will be a good race for us.

"... hopefully a race like Kansas or Phoenix where it didn’t work out for us, we can capitalize come that time, and then I think our program needed a little bit of an upgrade in the 750 area at a bigger track, which again, we learned from Darlington and took some of that to Dover and improved. We’ve just got to keep it going," Daniels said. 

They'll try to keep it going next weekend in Sonoma before moving to Texas and Nashville in coming weeks.


Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream most weekends throughout the season.
This self-admitted grammar nerd loves reading mysteries, playing with her dogs, and binge-watching programs with her husband.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Coca-Cola 600 Winning Crew Chief, Cliff Daniels Right Sides Only: Notes from the Coca-Cola 600 Winning Crew Chief, Cliff Daniels Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, May 31, 2021 Rating: 5