The “true champions” Sunday afternoon in the NASCAR Cup Series championship was the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 team.
Crew chief Cliff Daniels immediately praised them on the radio after Kyle Larson took the checkered flag at Phoenix Raceway. Larson then crowned them as much as he celebrated the race win and his first championship on the frontstretch.
The pit crew ended up being the determining factor in the championship. Larson went from fourth to the race lead on the final set of pit stops with less than 30 laps to go, his team once again proving they were the fastest on pit road. According to NBC Sports, the stop clocked in at 11.8 seconds.
“We always try to have great pit stops,” rear tire changer Calvin Teague said. “We have a great group of guys: our road mechanics, everybody on the team, our pit crew. We’ve done a great job all year. In the moment, you just think, hey, it could be our last pit stop of the year, and we want to do the best we can; try not to put too much pressure on yourself because you’ve done it over and over. You practice every week. You race every week. And we’ve been competitive all year. So, it’s not like we haven’t been upfront doing pit stops.
“We knew that was our opportunity. If we were going to have an opportunity to try to win because we were running fourth out of the championship cars at the time, we needed to have a great one. We went out there and did it.”
WHAT A STOP BY THE 5️⃣ TEAM! pic.twitter.com/x8U9BUabf9
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) November 7, 2021
Hendrick Motorsports pit crew coach Chris Burkey could see in the team’s eyes they were ready for the final stop. Burkey was in the team’s pit stall and said it was fun to watch the magic unfold.
“It was amazing,” Burkey said of Larson leaving pit road first. “Those are the moments that the guys live for. If you’re a competitor, that’s what you live (for) — making that last shot. We practice that all the time, and to see it come to fruition is awesome to watch. It really was.”
The reason Larson was running fourth going into the final set of stops was that’s where he’d come off pit road on the previous round. It wasn’t a particularly messy pit stop, but it was a bit slower and not up to their standards.
“There’s always going to be something during a pit stop that a lot of fans don’t see, and we just had a little slower pit stop on that,” said Burkey. “The guys really wanted to take advantage of the next pit stop. They were looking for a caution.”
The group that won with Larson is the same that worked with Jimmie Johnson last season, except for bringing in a new jackman. Together for a while now, the chemistry is there, and Burkey credited crew chief Cliff Daniels with doing a great job leading everyone.
“They have each other’s back and it’s just amazing,” said Burkey.
Even more impressive, the group did not undergo any changes throughout the season. The crew that started the year going over the wall for Larson in Daytona were the same ones that went the distance and celebrated the championship with him at Phoenix.
“They sure did, and they did a great job,” Burkey said as the champagne shower began in Victory Lane. “I’m so happy and so proud for these guys.”
Teague has been with Hendrick Motorsports for 13 years and spent 2010-2019 changing tires for Jimmie Johnson. Sunday was his fourth championship.
“This team, the guys that we have on this team, it’s not about any one person,” Teague said. “We are a team for a reason, and the team that we have and assembled is one of the greatest I’ve ever been a part of. And it shows. If somebody (makes) a mistake, they come and pick you up. Nobody hangs their hands. We just go and do what we know we can do, and everybody has faith in everybody.”