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June 14, 2020

Chris Gabehart

Homestead, Florida

THE MODERATOR: We'll roll right to questions for Chris Gabehart.

Q. We hear a lot about when crew chiefs are suspended, they are still communicative with the teams at the racetrack. What specifically are you able to do when you're at the racetrack that you're not able to do when you're back at the shop?
CHRIS GABEHART: That's a good question.
I think as people you only have five senses to work with, right? No matter how good the tools are at the track, you're missing a lot of‑‑ at the shop, you're missing a lot of them when you're not at the track. On top of that, it's not live. It is live, but it's not. You don't know the minute the caution comes out or the second a pit decision needs to be made.
For instance, a perfect example is when the 9 pit there under green right there at the end, I was literally listening to them. A little bit inside baseball... The second they called him in, I called Denny in. It was still too late. We still couldn't make it. There's no way that same play could have been made from me at the shop, at least not with the same trust level that Denny and I have because he knows what I'm doing.
As amazing the job that JGR's IT staff does. I really can't give them enough credit. It's just not the same as us being at the racetrack. That's why I'm back here today.

Q. The issues at Martinsville, would that have been corrected if you had practice?
CHRIS GABEHART: Golly, I sure hope we wouldn't have run that bad if we had a chance to practice (laughter). If so, Denny really would have would have had my butt.
I think Martinsville is unique because it is a track (indiscernible) free track. So with no practice at all, it's extremely hard on the tires until it rubbers in. Goodyear brought a tire that was supposed to wear more. Boy, did they wear. At the end of that first 60‑lap run, all the tires up and down pit road were bald. You don't know that when it's live, though. You can't be certain of that.
You're already making adjustments based on how the car is driving, then you get the tires off and look at them. It's not reverse. You actually get behind two runs because you realize just exactly what's happening, but you got to run another 60 laps still the stage break.
To answer your question, I am confident we would not have ran that poorly had we got some practice. I cannot wait to get back to Martinsville to redeem ourselves. I take a lot of pride in our short track efforts, I know Denny does, too. That was embarrassing.

Q. Do you think with this no practice everybody will have a day like you had at Martinsville, and the day like you had today?
CHRIS GABEHART: I can certainly say all of my teammates would tell you that. Again, more inside baseball. I can tell you we all are having better days and then some off days. I do think that's a product of everybody trying to figure out how to do this.
Look, I can't stress to you enough, what happens at the Cup level is the world's best racers optimizing things. No matter what comes our way at the Cup level, our job is to optimize the new scenario. This is no different, guys. I'm telling you, if we're doing this a year from now, the teams that are good are going to get great, and the teams that struggle a little bit are going to struggle worse.
It's our job to optimize. I think just all the top teams do a fantastic job of it, and this will be no different.

Q. Denny talked about he has an unorthodox driving style compared to his teammates. You have to adjust to that. What have you had to learn in working with Denny, what you've had to change on top of the pit box?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, it definitely is different. He's able to get speed out of a car in ways that his data traces may not suggest he's getting speed out of it, specifically at these style tracks.
What makes it work is the guy's won 40 times now. When I got to him, he had won 31 times. He's a world class stockcar driver. I knew with him as my driver and FedEx as my sponsor and Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota backing us that I have a good enough driver to win every single race every single weekend.
When you have that level of trust... I've not got to work with that as a crew chief with a driver like that. That's nothing against the guys I worked with in Xfinity. They didn't have the level of experience and résumé that Denny Hamlin had when I came to him.
It made it easy to sit down and go to work, say, Hey, we need to figure this out together. I don't need you to change. I need you to listen. I'm going to point things out. No different than me on the crew chiefing side setup‑wise. I pay attention to what my teammates do.
At the end of the day we trust in our own abilities, focus on our own abilities to make our racecars better or drive our racecars faster. I think that's our strength.

Q. Denny basically said he grew up with nothing. Do you think he uses the fact that he's not a silver spoon driver as a catalyst to push himself forward? He said reaching the 40th milestone was a number he might have had years ago, but now that number just keeps changing. How much of coming from nothing do you think he uses to motivate himself?
CHRIS GABEHART: I can tell you this, because I came from a similar background as him, you cannot know what it's like to starve if you've never been hungry. It's that simple. You do not know what it's like to go without if you never went without.
Denny Hamlin went without in racing. He knew what it was like to have nothing, to wonder where his next race weekend was going to come from. He knew he would need a big break to make it.
What you find out of athletes like that or crew chiefs or engineers, whatever, basketball players, when their back is against the wall, they know what it's like to fight because they have fought for their lives before. Not just fought for a win, fought for their lives.
You have to have that to be great. Being good is one thing, but you have to know what it's like to fight out of a corner when that's your only choice. I think Denny certainly has come from a background like this. He takes a lot of pride in that and he should. This is not easy. He's become great at this level, and he did it by climbing the ladder one rung at a time. Happy to be here on these rungs. It's been a lot of fun.

Q. This is your ninth win with Denny in 44 starts. What is it about you two that clicks?
CHRIS GABEHART: It's trust, number one. If I had to put one word on it, it is simply trust. What made it work in the early goings, I've said it before, he trusted me right away. He literally allowed me to come in and be innocent until proven guilty. Luckily, for the most part, we're still living there. Every now and then there's going to be a car like Martinsville. I hope once in like 400 races. He just trusts me and I trust him.
We are both hungry. He knows how hungry I am. You say we're 9 for 48. The very first thing I think about is the races we should have won and got away from us. That is just how it is. That's how it's going to be. I want to win all 48. I know he knows that about me. I know that he does, too.
When you know that each other is that invested, it makes it easy to trust each other. That trust can be a huge building block.

Q. The Xfinity Series had its doubleheader this week. Anything procedurally at the Cup level you're going to be able to take from this weekend and apply that to Pocono?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yes, for sure. I can tell you in some areas that I haven't even considered until I watched my team live through it. I'm probably not going to divulge a whole lot more information than that. I definitely have some things I need to talk with the shop about tomorrow based on what I watched this weekend.
Certainly it's been nice to watch somebody else live through it first. Hopefully we can make some adjustments for Pocono.

Q. You mentioned listening to the 9's radio. How did you decide whether to react to that decision or make your own call first and have everyone react to that?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, in hindsight I certainly wished I wouldn't have set the tone. The problem is we all know there's a window that we kind of need to be in where it makes sense to start. That window is very narrow. We had just gotten into it.
A lot of things ramp up at that time for everyone. We all got eyes on each other, ears. The laps start clicking by really quickly.
I had made up my mind that I was going to try to react to him because I thought I could get Denny on pit road the same lap. I just couldn't. As quickly as I reacted, it turns out 180 miles an hour is faster than I can listen, push a button and talk. Alan did a really good job. I missed it by a second.
Had I been able to get on the button a second sooner, we could have been down. It cost us a little bit of time. Luckily our car was good enough and Denny was good enough on the long run that we had everything we needed.
THE MODERATOR: Chris, thank you. We wish you the best of luck next weekend in Talladega.
CHRIS GABEHART: Thank you. We're looking forward to it.

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