Engineer Cliff Daniels takes over as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief

Cliff Daniels, the race engineer who helped Jimmie Johnson win the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, has been named as the new crew chief for Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team, the organization announced Monday.

Daniels, 31, replaces Kevin Meendering, effective immediately, and will guide the No. 48 team this weekend at Watkins Glen International. Daniels had been working in Hendrick’s competition systems group before rejoining the No. 48 team as race engineer for the June event at Sonoma Raceway.

Meendering, who took over as Johnson’s crew chief this year after long-time pit boss Chad Knaus moved to William Byron’s car, will remain with Hendrick Motorsports in a senior competition role.

“We have great confidence in Cliff’s ability to win races with Jimmie and the team,” said team 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.”

A seven-time champion at NASCAR’s highest level, Johnson hasn’t won a race since June 2017 at Dover International Speedway. He is currently 17th in the series standings, 12 points outside the cut line for the Playoffs with five events left in the regular season.

Two of Johnson’s teammates, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, already have qualified for the postseason with victories this year. Byron is 12th in the standings, 62 points ahead of the seven-time champion.

Daniels earned his engineering degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and served for two years as race engineer for Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing (2013-2014) before moving to Hendrick Motorsports. A former driver himself, Daniels raced late models at short tracks in Virginia before embarking on his career as an engineer.

“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.

“I’m so grateful to Kevin. 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.

Daniels bring an air of confidence to his new role.

“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.”