Transcript: Cliff Daniels – Press Conference – Sonoma Raceway

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winning crew chief, Cliff Daniels with the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Q. For a while there it kind of looked like Buescher not flipping the stages might actually work. We hadn’t really seen an on-track pass all day for the lead, but you obviously were confident enough that it was going to still work. How did you have that confidence?

CLIFF DANIELS: I don’t know that I was beyond confident that it was going to work. I just knew that when they had flipped what we were doing early in the race, it was going to put them in a position to have to pit early in the final fuel window, and from that point forward, no matter what, they’re going to be on defense. So the only way to solve to beat that is we had to figure out how to be on offense.

Our bed was made when they had all pitted off behind us, all the cautions that we had in Stage 1, we had to really commit to — at that point, we were a long car, so we just had to commit to the long side of things to have the offensive tires for the end of the race, if that makes sense.

If we would have pivoted and given up that second run when — yeah, I guess it would have been the beginning of stage 3 when they all were early in the fuel window, if we would have pivoted and pitted early then, we would have come out right behind them on the same tires, just not going anywhere. We had to go long.

Q. It seemed like definitely all the cautions the whole race, it seemed like everybody was thrown off on that end. But once Kyle got pitted and came down to chase everybody, it seemed like he gained at least a second every time he went into 11. Was that planned?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, like I mentioned, we knew that the only way we were going to get back ahead of some of those guys who had flipped the strategy on us is to have fresher tires by some amount. It was hard to know the right number, 10 laps, 15 laps, 20 laps, whatever the right amount of freshness on our tires as compared to them. But once it kind of cycled through that way and we had the clean track, the way the field had spread out by that point and we kind of cycled through, I knew that with new tires and a lot of grip that Kyle was going to be really fast.

I thought our car was in the mix of a top-5 car. Didn’t know it was a winning car at the time, but luckily the disparity of the laps on tires is what helped us get us to them.

Q. You don’t really know — the way this race played out is very unpredictable because of the amount of cautions, especially in the Next Gen era of road courses.

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, it’s unprecedented, really.

Q. Are you going into it saying, if there’s not very many cautions we do this; if there’s one — to have eight in the first two stages, is there any contingency for that? Are you deciding that on the fly and seeing how it changes?

CLIFF DANIELS: Really good question, and part of the reason that I like that you’re asking that is because it was so unexpected for us, none of our conversations hinged on how many cautions were we going to get. It was all with the repave, do you get tire blisters. Do your tires go 15 laps, do they go 30 laps, and the unknowns were more on the tire side of things, and knowing how to strategize around that two-stop or three-stop really for the whole day. Do you shorten both stages and pit on the fuel number in Stage 3, or try to hit the true fuel numbers to two-stop the whole race? With tires being the factor of uncertainty, we never thought that cautions — even a yellow here or there in a Next-Gen road course, okay, but not so many cautions.

That was actually fun because it changed everything everybody had in their mindset for how to understand pace, falloff, all those things, that it just changed the factors that you had to solve for.

People could do things differently. We were completely off script with the way that we called the race, but that was fun.

Q. Did you consider the strategy that some others were on, and if so, do you like the idea of Kyle more on the attack versus fuel mileage?

CLIFF DANIELS: Both, honestly both. We considered when those guys were pitting, whether it was leading up to Stage 1, during Stage 1, right after Stage 1, at the start of Stage 2, of course we had considered pitting that whole time, but you’re still looking at your green flag laps run to yellow flag laps run ratio. We just didn’t have that many laps on our tires, and every time you’d take off, you still had really good pace.

At that point you were pushing your fuel windows far enough so that under green in Stage 3, you weren’t going to have to take two cans of fuel, which we still didn’t have to do, so we knew we could have the advantage of a faster stop time running deeper into Stage 3 and having fresher tires, to your point about giving Kyle fresher tires. It was going to put us more in an offensive situation than a defensive situation. At the time you didn’t quite know who was going to pit when and how all that would play out, but obviously once we kind of made our bed, you really had to stay down that path. If we would have come off of that path, we would have sacrificed any offensive advantage that we would have had later in the race, if that makes sense.

Q. In practice you did have an extended practice, just to get a better sense of the repave. It didn’t seem like many teams went longer than 15 laps on a set of tires. Were you concerned just keeping them out there longer on a set of tires, we did see some blistering and stuff like that? Are we concerned that that was going to be an issue?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, of course, and a couple point that I’ll touch on there, I think part of the reason people didn’t go as long as you would have expected in practice is because we just don’t get that many opportunities with a full open practice to change springs, the geometry and other things, so you take this opportunity to go learn, so a lot of us had plan changes that were outside of our weekly impound style changes.

So back to your question, without cars running that many laps in practice because we were all kind of in R&D mode, to a point, you just didn’t see the number of laps on tires to know is blistering a thing, is wear a thing. You just didn’t quite have the data to go off of to understand that.

So that’s where back to one of Jeff’s questions earlier, we all had the question mark going into the race, more on the side of tire life, tire blisters, some of the repave factors, not necessarily the caution flag factor that ultimately we saw today.

Q. It seems that neither you or Kyle get too high during races. Does it feel like you two mesh well that way, where you kind of keep each other calm or is it just the nature of both of you?

CLIFF DANIELS: I think we’ve had enough seat time together to know that as long as we can stay together, stay connected, to overcome whatever may or may not be going our way, that we can typically fight through to have a good result, have a solid finish, and there was some intensity and some concerns just with the way the strategy played out today, and rightfully so from him, trying to understand what was going around him, who was ahead of him on what tires, who was behind him on what tires. So trying to paint that picture for him just so that he knew the objectives that he still had ahead of him, that’s kind of what I was focused on doing, once we understood the way we thought the strategy was going to play out and ultimately did.

I think our reps of doing that together and certainly there’s been times that we’ve failed to accomplish our mission together, and I think you learn the healthy things that you need to learn from both sides of the coin, from the wins and when it doesn’t go your way.