There’s no question that Kyle Larson is an immensely talented race car driver. The Elk Grove, California native has shown that he can win in virtually any type of machine and on any type of surface. At the same time, the 31-year-old driver has been fortunate enough to work with some tremendous crew chiefs including Paul Silva leading his Sprint Car efforts and Kevin Rumley preparing Late Models for the driver known as ‘Yung Money’.
Larson has also experienced great success with his current NASCAR Cup Series pit boss Cliff Daniels. The duo has been together since Larson joined Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2021 season. They have produced a championship and 14 race wins in just under three season with the No. 5 Chevrolet.
Larson actually has 15 of his career total of 22 Cup wins at HMS but Daniels was suspended earlier this season when the No. 5 Chevrolet won at Richmond Raceway.
The most recent win for Larson and Daniels will no doubt rank as one of their favorites. A great strategy move and a fast final pit stop allowed Larson to take the lead late in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway then hold off Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher to score a victory that will guarantee entry into the second round of the 2023 NASCAR Playoffs.
Following that triumph, Daniels made an appearance in the Darlington Media Center where he spoke with reporters. He compared his team’s effort on Sunday night to those of the HMS teams led by crew chief Chad Knaus and driver Jimmie Johnson when he first joined that highly successful organization.
“Tonight was huge for both of us,” Daniels declared. “I’ve been with Jimmie and Chad before when we’ve had great cars and been close to getting it done. We’ve had a lot of heartbreak here, in my times past, had some heartbreak when I was Jimmie’s crew chief. Kyle, when he was in the 42(Chip Ganassi Racing) had a lot of heartbreak here, plus the way the last two or three years have gone for Kyle and I on the 5 team. This race has been circled on our calendar. It’s a special race for the sport, it’s a crown jewel, it’s a milestone race if you can get it done. It was very, very special for us tonight. I don’t know how to rank it but knowing the emotion that’s led us to this point, it’s definitely special.”
Having been together for the better part of three years now, Daniels has learned how to both support his driver and to recognize when he needs to be encouraged to step up his game.
“He and I, our relationship has grown over the last handful of years, as it should,” Daniels explained. “The way our year has gone it’s been easy to get discouraged at times and I’ve tried to be the, it’s kind of two-fold, keep him accountable when we need to and be his biggest supporter, his biggest cheerleader, we know he has the talent when he gets out front and he executes a great restart and does all the things we know he can do he’s dynamite.”
Like Knaus and Johnson, the partnership between Daniels and Larson has not always been a smooth one in its early days. When first told which crew chief he would be working with when he first came to Hendrick Motorsports, Larson was not sure the match would make for a good fit. Although a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a degree in mechanical engineering, his new pit boss did not have a lot of experience and his time as crew chief for a seven-time champion had not gone particularly well.
Now, Larson has gone on record as saying he would not want anyone else leading his team.
“He and I have had conversations about that and, I don’t know, at the time he probably didn’t think I had a ton of experience,” Daniels recalled. “By the time he and I were paired together I think I had been a crew chief for a year or two and he had been in the sport for seven or eight years so I think he probably thought it was an unlikely pairing which is totally fair to say.”
The trust each now has in the other is, according to the 35-year-old originally from Smithfield, Virginia, the key to their success.
“We had to build our relationship and build our trust,” he offered. “Trust is obviously the foundation for any relationship and there’s nobody else I would trust more than him behind the wheel of our car and he’s learned to trust me and the way our team operates and the way we communicate and work together. It’s definitely a special relationship that we have and really that our whole team has.”
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