SPARTA, KY — Chris Gabehart has stamped his name as one of the top crew chiefs in NASCAR today. His name has to be up there with the likes of Chad Knaus, Rodney Childers, Adam Stevens, etc. There’s no way you can compile a list of the top five Cup Series crew chiefs and Gabehart’s name not be a part of it.
Gabehart, joined Denny Hamlin’s team as his full time crew chief in 2019. They only won six races together, including the season opening Daytona 500, to go along with 19 top five finishes, 24 top 10’s and 922 laps led en route to a Championship 4 performance.
Through 12 races in 2020 (he was suspended for four races), they’ve already won four times, scored seven top five finishes and eight top 10’s. Hamlin, has led 324 laps already in his No. 11 Toyota.
Hamlin, won the Daytona 500 for a second straight year and was a cut tire away from a third straight top two finish on the season last Sunday in what would have been a Brickyard 400 triumph.
Now, they’re eyeing their first win in the Quaker State 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN). I mean, how can you pick against them? Hamlin, has arguably had the top speed on the season thus far and has scored three top five finishes in his last five Kentucky Speedway starts including a fifth place run a year ago.
If they can win on Sunday, it would be a special win for Gabehart. See, he went to high school in Louisville. From race track to St. Xavier High School, is a 59 minute drive from here.
“I do a little bit,” Gabehart said on if he still has ties to his alma mater. “The alumni association did a story on me last year that I thought was incredibly flattering. I don’t view myself as any different than anybody else that came from there, but they cared enough to write up a really nice article on me which was awesome.
“As far as winning in Kentucky, it would certainly mean a lot. Like I said before, my roots at Kentucky Speedway really go back to the old Blue Oval Speedway back in Louisville where I grew up, just four minutes down the road from. The ownership – that owned Louisville when that track closed down built Kentucky Speedway – it no longer is in that ownership group – but I know the linage from a child. So, when I go back there, all of that is tied together in my memory, so it definitely makes it a different race track than all the rest for me.”
Hamlin, would certainly like to give this gift to his crew chief and with Toyota winning three of the last five years here and Hamlin having the top Toyota car this year, this would seem like their best shot, right?
“It’s hard for me to speak towards the other teams, but I will certainly say that our group it feels like it’s a very refined process,” Gabehart said. “It’s not an accident that we’re running the way we are. We do the same things every week. We are very meticulous with details, and right now that chemistry is working, but again, it’s so much about adaptability.
“The next change is going inevitably come, whether that is a rule change or practice comes back or an organization will all of a sudden find some speed, and we are forced to start chasing that organization or the race lengths change or whatever it may be. We are going to go to the ROVAL in Daytona and all of those variables produce change that could affect that chemistry but right now our group is just hitting on all eight and really paying attention to all of the details. I think it’s showing for sure.”
So, how is he getting the best out of Hamlin is such short order?
“Well, it’s a little bit hard for me to comment on who he was before I got here,” he said. “Certainly, from a crew chief – driver perspective, so it’s a little bit different for me to comment on any change that may have occurred, but what I like most about our relationship is just the trust that we have with one another to do each other’s jobs.
“Denny does not get in the way of what myself and the engineers and the race team feels is best in terms of putting the racecar on the racetrack to have our best shot to win, and we trust in him to do his job no matter the scenario. We certainly work together to optimize both situations, but at the end of the day if he showed up this weekend and the right side tires were leaning outwards and the left side tires were leaning inwards, he would look at it a little strange and get in it and go race because that’s what he thinks his team needs for that weekend to make the car fast. Vice versa, we stand behind our guys, so there is a lot of comfort in that.
“That only works if you have success to go along with it. You certainly start out trusting each other and believing one another, but if the results don’t come that trust can erode away because you are not getting the results. Well clearly, we’ve been getting them, and it makes it easier to lean on each other and believe in each other. Even coming off of a tough weekend like we had in Indy, we clearly had the win in the bag there at the end and just didn’t have air in the right front tire long enough to get it done.”