Kyle Larson’s NASCAR Crew Chief Cliff Daniels Reveals Major Lessons from Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus Era

Published 03/09/2021, 10:00 AM EST
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (5) celebrates his victory in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels won their first NASCAR Cup race with the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team, which would’ve come as a big relief for both. While Larson won his first race in quite some time, Daniels won his first-ever Cup Series race.


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The top crew chief had a tough couple of seasons with Jimmie Johnson in the iconic No. 48 team, unable to win a race despite coming close. While they could not win there, Daniels learned a lot of useful lessons from one of the most successful driver-crew chief pairs – Johnson and Chad Knaus.

Daniels worked with the #48 team and took over from Knaus as Johnson’s crew chief. Knaus and Johnson won seven NASCAR Cup titles together and won so many races in the process. Knaus has now assumed an even higher role at Hendrick, that of the historic NASCAR outfit’s Competition Director.


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Speaking after Sunday’s win in Las Vegas, Daniels delved deep into how he applied the learnings from Johnson and Knaus as he and Larson inched closer towards victory.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 16: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet, talks to his crew chief, Chad Knaus, during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Daniels explains how he used his learnings from Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus

Once we started getting towards the later part of the race, 20 to go, 15, 10, five, some valuable lessons I learned from Jimmie and Chad was to always be thinking ahead,” Daniels said.

Larson was dominating the final stage of the race. However, in such situations, a late-race caution tends to completely change the dynamic. This is why drivers in the lead can never afford to be complacent until the checkered flag is waved.

While Larson was focusing on handling his car, Daniels worked ‘thinking ahead’, as he said, and came up with back-up plans if faced with a late restart.

You’re going to have mixed strategies, guys that are going to throw a Hail Mary, stay out on old tires, some guys will take two, some four. We worked up two different contingency plans if we needed them,” Daniels explained.

Daniels and Kyle Larson were ready for any situation

“If the caution came out at any point, we already knew what our call was going to be, we knew which way we were going to go. That may sound a little bit idealistic, but we had to be thinking ahead in case we had been in that situation,” he said further.


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Daniels felt Larson was doing well on restarts throughout the race. He wanted his driver and his crew ready to make the most of a potentially similar situation late in the race.

Mar 7, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (5) cellebrates his victory in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Daniels and his team’s time with legends like Johnson and Knaus is finally paying dividends. To make things better, they have Larson, who is considered one of the most talented drivers in the sport.


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Aayush Majumdar

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Aayush Majumdar is a NASCAR content strategist, a Tennis Writer, and a sports analyst at EssentiallySports. He is well-tenured as a tennis and NASCAR writer, with over 900 articles across both sports. After pursuing a Post Graduate program in Sports Management, Aayush explored various roles in Sports Media, including a Sports Reporting role at a leading English daily.