A significant milestone start is in the making for Chris Gabehart, crew chief for Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota TRD Camry team in the NASCAR Cup Series. By participating in this weekend’s Cup throwback event at Darlington Raceway for the Goodyear 400, Gabehart will call his 150th event as crew chief in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native of Lafayette, Indiana, and a graduate of Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Gabehart’s career path to NASCAR began when he competed in go-karts at age 10 in the World Karting Association. He eventually moved up to late models and the ARCA Series before retiring in 2007 due to sponsorship and financial issues. Not long after, he became an engineer for Kyle Busch Motorsports’ late model and Truck Series program before teaming up with Joe Gibbs Racing as an engineer in both the Xfinity and Cup circuits. From 2016 to 2018, Gabehart became a crew chief for JGR in the Xfinity circuit, where he accumulated a total of nine victories with names that included Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Preece.
In 2017, Gabehart made his inaugural presence as a Cup Series crew chief for Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 JGR Toyota Camry team at Richmond Raceway in September. Gabehart’s role as a crew chief was an interim role for a one-race basis after Mike Wheeler, Hamlin’s full-time crew chief, was serving a two-race suspension due to illegal suspensions that were found on Hamlin’s race-winning car during the previous weekend at Darlington Raceway. With Gabehart atop the pit box of the No. 11 team at Richmond, Hamlin ended up in fifth place despite being involved in a last lap incident involving Martin Truex Jr.
In 2019, Gabehart was named a full-time crew chief for Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry team for the full Cup Series season. The new duo commenced the season on a high note by winning the 61st running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February. The victory, which was the second 500 win for Hamlin and snapped his 47-race winless drought, served as a memorable one for the driver, crew chief and the JGR organization with the team mourning the loss of the team’s president and son of owner Joe Gibbs, J.D. Gibbs. Six races later, Gabehart and Hamlin achieved their second victory of the season at Texas Motor Speedway in March. They went on to win at Pocono Raceway in July and Bristol Motor Speedway in August before the 2019 Cup Playoffs commenced. With victories at Kansas Speedway in October and Phoenix Raceway in November, Gabehart and Hamlin managed to transfer all the way from the Round of 16 to the Championship 4 round at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November and compete for the series title. During the finale, however, Hamlin made a late unscheduled pit stop to fix an overheating issue to his car and ended up in 10th place on the track and in fourth place in the final championship standings. Overall, Gabehart achieved six victories, three poles, a career-best 19 top-five results, 24 top-10 results, 922 laps led and an average-finishing result of 9.5 in his first full-time Cup season with Hamlin.
Remaining as Hamlin’s crew chief for the 2020 Cup season, the duo commenced the season on a high note by winning the 62nd running of the Daytona 500, where Hamlin dodged a harrowing final lap wreck involving Ryan Newman to edge Ryan Blaney in a photo finish to repeat as a champion in the Great American Race. Their second victory of the season occurred five races later after Hamlin won a rain-shortened event at Darlington Raceway in May. Two races later at Charlotte Motor Speedway, however, Gabehart was suspended for the following four races due to ballast that fell out of Hamlin’s car prior to the start of the Coca-Cola 600. When Gabehart returned atop the pit box at Homestead in June, Hamlin ended up winning the event after leading a race-high 137 of 267 laps. The duo went on to win at Pocono in June, Kansas in July and Dover in August before making their second consecutive trip to the Playoffs. After finishing in the top 10 three times through nine Playoff events, including claiming a wild victory at Talladega Superspeedway in October, Gabehart and Hamlin managed to accumulate enough points and strong results to transfer all the way from the Round of 16 to the Championship 4 finale for a second consecutive time. During the finale, however, Hamlin ended up as the fourth highest-finishing competitor of the final four finalists both on the track and in the final standings for a second consecutive season. Despite being absent for four events, Gabehart managed to accumulate seven victories, 16 top-five results and 19 top-10 results with Hamlin and the No. 11 JGR team.
At the start of the 2021 Cup season, Gabehart and Hamlin fell short in their bid to win a third consecutive Daytona 500 as Hamlin settled in fifth place in the final running order. Despite going winless in the regular-season stretch, the No. 11 team accumulated 13 top-five results and 17 top-10 results in 26 races, which were enough for them to make the 2021 Cup Playoffs. At the start of the Playoffs, they achieved their first elusive win of the season at Darlington Raceway in September and a one-way ticket from the Round of 16 to 12 after Hamlin fended off a last lap challenge from Kyle Larson. Three races later, Gabehart and Hamlin clinched a spot for the Round of 8 after winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. Despite finishing no higher than fifth during the Round of 8, they transferred to the Championship 4 finale. Given a third consecutive opportunity to contend for the title, Gabehart and Hamlin fell short in their third bid after finishing in third place both during the finale at Phoenix and in the final standings. With two victories achieved throughout the 2021 Cup season, Gabehart accumulated a total of 19 top-five results, a career-high 25 top-10 results, a career-high 1,502 laps led and an average-finishing result of 8.4 in his third season as a Cup crew chief with Hamlin. By then, Gabehart surpassed 100 Cup events called as a crew chief.
This past season, Gabehart and Hamlin rallied from finishing no higher than 13th during the first six scheduled events by achieving their first victory of the season at Richmond in April. Then in early May, Gabehart was issued a second four-race suspension from NASCAR for a loose wheel that came off of Hamlin’s car at Dover in late April. While JGR attempted to appeal the penalty, the penalty was denied by mid-May and Gabehart was suspended for four events that included the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May, the inaugural Cup event at World Wild Technology Raceway, Sonoma Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway in June. Amid Gabehart’s absence, Hamlin won the Coke 600 with engineer and interim crew chief Sam McAulay before finishing no higher than sixth during his following three starts. Upon returning at Road America in July, Gabehart and Hamlin finished in the top 10 three times during the final nine regular-season events on the schedule before the 2022 Cup Playoffs commenced. Despite finishing no lower than 13th throughout the Playoffs, the duo missed the cutline to the Championship 4 finale by a mere margin after Hamlin was overtaken by a bold move by title rival Ross Chastain on the final lap at Martinsville in November. With an eighth-place result in the finale, Gabehart and Hamlin concluded the season in fifth place in the final standings.
Through 149 previous Cup events, Gabehart has achieved 17 victories, five poles, 67 top-five results, 88 top-10 results and 4,064 laps led, all while working with Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team. The duo is coming off their first victory of the season at Kansas Speedway. To go along with a pole, three top-five results and five top-10 results through the first 12-scheduled events, they are tied with teammate Truex and the No. 19 JGR team for third place in the driver’s standings.
Gabehart is scheduled to call his 150th Cup Series event as a crew chief at Darlington Raceway for the Goodyear 400 on Sunday, May 14. The event’s broadcast time is scheduled to commence at 3 p.m. ET on FS1.