Every racing rans knows that the crew chief does much more than just sit on the pit box and tell the drivers when to come down pit road for fuel and fresh tires.  At times the crew chief is a cheerleader, coach, and even a psychologist and motivational speaker upon occasion.

During the Coca Cola 600 Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson was having a really bad day that caused him to be assessed multiple penalties and the team to repair the damaged number five car.  They even had to put out a fire in the number five pit box.  And all of that was after Larson had to start the race from the back of the field after wrecking during practice on Saturday night.

Larson got on the radio and told his crew chief Cliff Daniels that, “I think this has been the worst race of my life and we’re not even halfway.”

Daniels let his driver stew in his juices for abut 30 laps until the reached halfway and then launched into his inspirational speech telling Larson, “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, 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.”

The speech had the desired effect, even with an on track altercation in the first of two overtime finishes, Larson ended the race in the top 10 in ninth place.  Larson and the pit crew had a near flawless second half.

The pit crew was charged with three penalties in the first half – two for equipment interference and one for leaving pit road with equipment.

This year the teams are dealing with a number of issues including a brand new car and a few new tracks to the circuit. Over the first part of the season, the teams have had a number of issues with the new car including numerous tire issues.

After the race was over – around midnight eastern time – and he had time to decompress, Cliff Daniels spoke on the events saying, “I think we’ve all seen at the Next Gen races, everyone inevitably makes mistakes, right? And you’re talking good teams, good drivers, good crews … things just happen. Guys go from the back to the front, from the front to the back and sometimes multiple times. There’s tire issues, there’s all these things. So in my mind, I’m like, OK, our car isn’t destroyed. I really don’t think it’s terrible if we get it out front, I’m sure it’d be better. I know him, right? If we get him out front, he’s gonna be awesome, because he always is. You know, this is the same pit crew that six months ago won the championship for us. So yes, we had a tough start to the day. But I have all the faith and trust in those guys.”

He added, “so it’s like, all right, hang on a minute. Yes, we’re three hours in. It feels like we’ve run a marathon, but we’re barely even halfway, if at all at that point. So like, hey, let’s chill out for a minute. Let’s think about this, and let’s go do what we’re capable of doing and being really good. So that was kind of my frame of mind internally. Yes, I was pissed off and frustrated and mad and sad and all over the place like everybody else was, but that really doesn’t do any good. … So you just gotta be tough. You’ve got to be there at the end. We talk about it every week.”

After the race Kyle Larson also spoke on the night’s events and his crew chief saying, “I think a lot of it has to do with Cliff.  He’s just the best leader in the garage area, and I’m glad that we have him as part of our team. So yeah, he did a great job keeping me in the game, our pit crew in the game and gave us a shot to win.”

Cliff Daniels also spoke on his pit crew saying, “we have a very healthy mix of guys that are young and still have the fire of youth, but they are racers so they know the grit that it takes.  We also have a good mix of guys that are really experienced and been doing it for a long time, so they don’t get rattled too easily by scenarios and situations. Trust me, we would prefer to do things a lot more polished up, but some days you just got to take your gloves off and get to work, and these guys know how to do that. I cannot compliment them enough. The road crew literally spent the last day and a half rebuilding our car. Yes, there was a lot of damage after the wall contacts in practice. So to rebuild a car, to have all this stuff happen today and even have a shot is a testament to them.”

He continued, “I know, our pit crew may have got beat up a little, you know, publicly on the first couple of stops but they’re a tough bunch. And to me, what really shows that is in the midst of the struggles that we had to start the day, the last three pit stops of the race, we came in in the top three and left either on par or plus one. They did fantastic, and that’s how tough they are, right? Like, hey, we made mistakes, we screwed up, we had things happen, got knocked over and spun around and all these things and come back and execute great stops like they did fantastic. To your point, the backbone of the team is strong. It’s not any individual. It’s all the guys. And you know, of course Larson’s a badass, once you get him back out front and he talks things over in his mind, and he kind of resets himself, he’s great. So we’ve got a lot of strength. It sucks that we didn’t get a better finish, but a lot of good takeaways from the night.”