By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Starting next weekend at Watkins Glen, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will have a new crew chief atop the pit box. Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday that Cliff Daniels will take over the role that had been held by Kevin Meendering.
“We have an opportunity to win an eighth championship and a lot more races with Jimmie,” Daniels said. “I’m proud to be in this position and have total faith in the team and our ability to perform at the level everyone expects. We have the best driver, the best organization and the best leadership, so everything we need to be successful is in place. It’s always been my goal to become a crew chief, and I’m thankful to Mr. Hendrick for his confidence.”
Daniels, a 31-year old native of Smithfield, Virginia, has found success with the No. 48 team and Hendrick Motorsports, winning the 2016 championship with Johnson as his race engineer. He first joined the team in December 2014 before moving over to the Hendrick competition department following the 2018 season.
Daniels returned to the team last month as race engineer when the series made its stop at Sonoma Raceway.
“We have great confidence in Cliff’s ability to win races with Jimmie and the team,” said Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick. “He’s a natural leader and tremendously talented from both a technical and communication standpoint. Cliff’s familiarity with Jimmie and the No. 48 team culture will benefit us a ton. He will bring the spark that’s been our missing ingredient.”
Johnson echoed his team owner’s sentiments that Daniels could be the key to righting the ship with five races remaining in the regular season.
“Cliff has really shined since he came back to the ‘48,’” Johnson said. “When he returned, there was an immediate change in the team dynamic that all of us felt. We’ve worked together for a long time, have a ton of mutual respect and a shared vision. I have no doubt the strong connection and working relationship is going to pay dividends right away.”
The 2019 season has been tough for Johnson and Meendering, with Johnson currently sitting 17th in points. Through the first 21 races of their partnership, Johnson has three top-five finishes, eight top-10 finishes, one pole, 81 laps led, and an average finish of 15.1.
Meendering will be staying with Hendrick Motorsports in a senior competition role going forward.
“Kevin is a talent,” Hendrick said. “We have areas where he can make a major impact and help all four of our teams be successful. Everyone thinks the world of him, and we plan to keep him as a key member of our organization for as long as he wants to be here.”
“I’m so grateful to Kevin,” Johnson added. “He’s a truly awesome person who I think very, very highly of. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him in his new role. He’s a brilliant guy and will make all of us better.”