Right Sides Only: Notes from the Gander RV 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chris Gabehart

by Stacey Owens

To win a race, a driver has to beat almost 40 other drivers, including his own teammates. Denny Hamlin, in his return to Victory Lane at the site of his first Cup win at Pocono Raceway, beat out teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. as the trio took the top three spots in the Gander RV 400.

The Tricky Triangle saw three more laps than intended as the race went into overtime. Crew chief Chris Gabehart talked about getting Hamlin to the front while simultaneously urging his driver to conserve fuel as well as whether he thought Hamlin could have won had the race ended at 400 laps.

"Yeah, I felt like we could. I felt like we were in a pretty good spot. There's never enough insurance in those situations obviously. That's why I pushed Denny as hard as I could to get under the 19 and 20. 

"I felt confident once we could gain control of the race, we could be as in control as anybody, whatever might come, a caution, green-white-checkered. Now we're the leader on the restarts, those kind of things. 

"I just let him go, get the lead. Then as soon as he got out front, I pulled the reins on him, started putting some in the bank," Gabehart said.

Rebecca Kivak for Skirts and Scuffs
When it's time to conserve fuel, a crew chief often has to calm his driver since a racer's inclination is, well, to race. He doesn't want to slow down or conserve, so his crew chief has to reel him in. Gabehart talked about keeping Hamlin calm in such a situation.

"Yeah, I think he's just so anxious, like any driver would be. One of the things I'm most thankful for is I've been in his seat, not at this level. He's sitting in a 120-degree racecar for hours on end in this hot suit and helmet, in this little cocoon. He doesn't know what's going on. He has very limited information. He's just basically doing what he's told, kind of going off that. 

"It can be a lot of pressure because he doesn't see the big picture. That's where trust comes in. I think for better or worse, to win the race he had to trust me in that situation, so he didn't have a choice. I'm really so thankful for that trust that we've been able to build together. I think that's a big part of our success," Gabehart explained.

After all his calculations and coaching, Gabehart got his driver back in Victory Lane, but he didn't join them right away. He talked about what could have been perceived as a hesitation to celebrate shortly after the race.

"I mean, it sounds crazy, but I wasn't nervous. I felt like we had done our best to make all the best decisions we could make, me and my entire team. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. 

"It wasn't relief. Honestly for me, it's about the win. I mean, it's about the win and watching my guys celebrate. That's what means the most to me. Me running down to Victory Lane or be the first guy here or there, do that, I don't really -- I don't want to say I don't care about it, I love it, I want to do it every weekend. What's most important to me is watching my guys get to reap the rewards of their hard work.

"So sitting there on top of that pit box watching Denny do the burnouts, those guys run out on the wall and celebrate, that's what it's about for me. I don't need any more than that," Gabehart said.

Will Gabehart get to watch Hamlin and the rest of the No. 11 team celebrate more wins on their way to the playoffs as well as the final race in South Florida? One thing's for sure; it's going to be fun to watch.

Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
   The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far. 
   This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession... as long as she allows him to obsess over college football every fall.  

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Gander RV 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chris Gabehart Right Sides Only: Notes from the Gander RV 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chris Gabehart Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, July 29, 2019 Rating: 5