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June 28, 2020

Chris Gabehart

Long Pond, Pennsylvania

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Chris Gabehart. Talk to us about the call that was able to get him there out front to bring home the victory.
CHRIS GABEHART: Strategy races are so hard in the Cup Series because there's so many bright minds capable of altering their strategy at any point. We had a few extra things come up here with the weather pushing us back, darkness coming in. Of course, the cautions come when they do. Who is running where and when, kind of shift gears on the fly.
Just comes down to great people. Got a great group of guys around me. We really spend a lot of time going over every detail of a race weekend. Of course Pocono and strategy is no different. Then Denny's trust in my ability to make the calls that win or lose, he's in there no matter what. It works well like that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Chris.

Q. The season started off, it was all Hendrick, Chevy. You guys were behind, especially the West Coast. Now seems like there's a lot of parity. Where do you see things shaping up right now as far as the whole championship picture?
CHRIS GABEHART: That's the neat thing about our sport, right? You guys go into an off‑season and hear no rules changes except for 750 packages, which aren't a large part of our schedule. You think to yourself, The Gibbs cars were so awesome, they'll be awesome again. That implies everybody is going to go home and take a nice holiday for two and a half months. At this level that's not going to happen. They don't take to losing very well, they're winners just like we are. They want to win. They're going to figure it out how to get it done.
I honestly knew when Chevy had the new bodies coming onboard, you look at the factors that go into that, they're not doing that to bring something just as good. You're not going to do that. I knew they were going to be tough. The Hendrick organization, all the Chevy guys are more than capable of winning races. They're all championship teams in their own right.
Where does it put us now? I think when you're the guys out front and everybody is gunning for you, it's sort of hard to know where you stand at times. We understood pretty quick on the West Coast Swing where we were, we got our own organization of winners who push and strive to be better at everything we're doing. That's what it takes. That's what it takes to win at the top level.
When it comes to the 11 team, we just have so much fun. I just believe in my guys, what we do. We trust each other. We trust the process. Everybody has bought in, having a lot of fun. In pro sports of any kind, that's key ingredient number one to a great team.

Q. How important was it for this weekend to have the two races where you could use race one? What can you take from here to use in Indianapolis, almost having race one as a practice?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, on the Indy note, a little bit. Not as much as maybe you used to, but certainly some. We're going to compare notes for sure. I think the bigger point is having a race a day or two prior to an additional race at the same track. We did a similar thing at Charlotte and Darlington, as well. This was the same racecar, the same weekend. Got to turn it around and go race it again.
Honestly, for the 11 team, I feel like we're as good or better than most at unloading in the ballpark sight unseen racetrack, lap one's the race. Having a shot to be close enough to compete for a win.
I knew we'd have to work overnight. As good as our car was last night, we did not have just the exact same setup. Again, trust the people and the process. We worked on it. We knew if we didn't, other teams would, they'd close the gap.
I honestly think our car was better today than what we had yesterday. We had a lot of damage on the car that the media may not know about. We got a big hole in the nose that really messes up the aerodynamics at a place like Pocono. Had to figure out how to get that sort of patched up. Didn't get it great, but a good as it could be. Left rear fender damage. It's a lot.
It's a tough weekend. Hopefully you saw a lot of nuances in it, comers and goers, ended up being the 11 and the 4 either way. I'm quite proud to put my name in the same sentence as that group, it's an honor in and of itself. Yeah, it's a lot of fun. Whatever NASCAR wants to throw at us next, we're ready for it.

Q. If they decide to do more doubleheaders, is this something you like and are onboard with?
CHRIS GABEHART: I like what is entertaining for you guys. That's our job, is to entertain and compete at a high level. Whatever NASCAR wants to do I support.
I will say it's very hard on the race teams. We didn't leave the racetrack till after 11 last night. You drive over a half hour to the hotel, got to be back here at 7. There's a lot of work that goes on in between preparing a car that just raced 325 miles to race again for 350 miles, put a professional product on the racetrack.
It's very important to me and my guys to polish our Toyota Camry up with FedEx on the quarter panel and the hood. I take a lot of pride in putting a first class racecar on the racetrack for those guys, Joe Gibbs Racing, my organization. There's a lot that goes into that.
This is very hard, but these teams are the best in the business. Whatever NASCAR wants to do we'll support and adapt.

Q. What happened to the nose initially?
CHRIS GABEHART: Restarts at Pocono, anywhere, but at Pocono are real crazy. There's always a lot of pushing, trying to get momentum built up for turn one and a good exit to turn two. Pocono, a lot of fanning out.
Some cars broke their momentum in front, had to check up. You end up with an accordion effect when you're back there in the mid to late teens, where we were at the time. Denny couldn't get checked up in time. Blasted somebody. I don't know who it was. He immediately told me off one, We got to check for damage.
We have photographers back at the racetrack. Only had them just a couple races now. Real helpful to be able to go back to pictures and see what we needed to fix. We needed that first pit stop to get a good look at it. The area that was tore up was really hard to see. You couldn't see it on TV. We needed a close‑up view in the pit box.
Pocono, we're only going to pit three times in the whole race pretty much. You don't have a lot of time to work on it. Again, it goes back to my guys. They're so good. Whatever gets thrown their way, we're going to figure out a way to overcome it. I'm proud to say we did again today.

Q. Hamlin said all he wanted was a chance to get back to the final four. You were the team to beat going in there last year. What have you learned since then that you're just going to build on now knowing that we're halfway through the season, what you have to do to get back there and give the 11 team another shot at it?
CHRIS GABEHART: From a very tangible point of view I'm not going through the first half of the season at all these racetracks for the first time with Denny. I've experienced Pocono before. I've experienced Homestead before. I've experienced Atlanta before. I've experienced Bristol before. The first half of last year, it was build a notebook, build a language with Denny and the engineers, mechanics, figuring out how to optimize a weekend. While we did well going into those weekends the first time, certainly it's our job to come out better. We didn't do that this year. Now we have a notebook built up. I think it shows. I think the first half of our year is a lot stronger than last year's first half, even though it was good.
Moving forward, what's it going to take to get back to Phoenix? You just have to keep executing. The one thing I love about where the 11 team is at right now, our biggest competition is ourselves. Martinsville we had an awful race, beat ourselves. You look at the Coke 600, we had a winning racecar there, we run second coming to Chase Elliott at the end of the race, the following few days at Charlotte, but we had a much better car at the Coke 600 in all honesty, didn't get to show it because we beat ourselves. Phoenix beat ourselves. Running in the top three, wrecked, didn't get a chance to show what we had there.
What I love about where our race team is at right now is it's a competition against us. Execute, execute, execute. If you can do that, you have a shot to win. That's all we can ask for.

Q. Denny Hamlin has 41 career wins. You've been on top of the pit box for 10 of them, all within the last year and a half. What is it that makes you and Denny click together?
CHRIS GABEHART: First and foremost, Denny Hamlin is really good. He's been around the block for a long time. There's a lot of stats out there. I'll give David Smith a shout out, a lot of what he does tells you that the 38, 41, a lot older than 41, is a real peak.
The reason is very simple. To give you the inside baseball of it, it's simple. Denny Hamlin has been around this sport for a long time. He's lived through the pressure, through the ups and downs. He knows the racetracks, understands rules changes, knows how to work with his race team. All that comes with experience that some of the younger guys have to get that under their belt.
He's still amazingly talented from a mental acuity and a physical point of view. He's as sharp as he's ever been. So it's the best of both worlds. Some of your rookie guys, Christopher Bell, Erik Jones, those guys, they just don't have that experience side. They have the talent side, but they have to learn how to apply the experience.
It's a whole lot more than just driving racecars. It's an infinite amount of pressure that those guys have to figure out how to deal with.
As far as our relationship together, I say the same thing every week, it's trust. I know that any racetrack we go to, Denny Hamlin is good enough to win at if my team executes well enough to give him the opportunity.
When I say 'opportunity to win', it's just running top five. If you're in the top five on every given week, you have an opportunity to win the way these races shake out. Vice versa, Denny trusts myself and the team we built. When you put that kind of confidence around a great athlete, look out, right? That's where we are. We're having a great time.

Q. With as late as this race was running, were you asking Denny for how the track was changing? Were you concerned the darkness may end up shortening this race any?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, we were keeping close tabs on when the race was going to end approximately, when sunset is. Sunset is an easy number to look up. What we don't have a good feel for is the twilight, how long you can actually see past that. It was certainly a concern.
It became pretty clear about midway through the last stage that we were probably going to finish if it went green. At that point it became, Who has pit, who has not pit, who are we racing against, what strategy are they on, what are they thinking. As decisions started being made, it became easier to hone in on what was best for us.
Fortunately I was convinced. It was very clear to me what we needed to do. Again, just a matter of executing. Denny has to go out there and optimize lap times. When it's time to bring it, I'll let him know. Get in great on pit road, the pit crew has to execute a great two tire stop, has to get up speed well. We did all those things great. Then we are in the catbird seat from there. We had the best tires and a (indiscernible) seconds lead.

Q. How does Indianapolis challenge a crew chief? Is it any more so than at Pocono or a road course? Is it easier because you don't have as many options because the way it typically choose up tires?
CHRIS GABEHART: Definitely not easier. The reason it's not is because it's pretty much a one‑groove racetrack. All four corners are similar to each other. They're pretty high‑speed corners. Pocono is a wider racetrack. You do have options. All three corners are quite different.
Turn two at Pocono is similar to Indy's corners. That's what teams tend to focus on leaving Pocono, trying to apply something to Indy. Although turn two at Pocono has gotten rougher over the years, so even that's not a straight application.
Really the one‑groove racetrack at Indy, especially in today's rule package, is cutthroat. It greatly affects the decision you make going into the weekend. When your bed gets made, how you approach your weekend. It's one of the more compromising racetracks on the circuit actually in terms of how you're going to approach it, what your strategy is going to be.
Harvick and the 4 guys did a phenomenal job of executing the last time we were there from start to finish. That was from qualifying on. Once you get a fast car like that out front at Indy, it's going to be impossible to beat them. They proved that to be the case last time there.
Hopefully we can pull that off. Indy means a lot to me, as it does to a lot of members on my race team. We're looking forward to it.

Q. You talked about Denny's talent. How have you pushed him? Do you feel he's gotten better in the time you have worked together?
CHRIS GABEHART: I think it's a perfect storm. Again, he's in my view at the sweet spot of his career, will be for years to come. I'm very fortunate in that regard. He's summed all of the experiences, the goods and the bads he's had, brought them to the table to me. He's given me that platform to work with. Likewise. While I don't have the experience at the Cup level that he does, I've effectively raced professionally for 28 years now at some level or another. I think it's just the best of both worlds colliding in one.
That's a question for you to ask him as to whether or not he feels like he's been better the last two years. I certainly believe and I don't have a problem holding this race team accountable because I think that much of him with the resources that we have at Joe Gibbs Racing, with FedEx, Toyota, Denny Hamlin as our driver, we can win every week. I say that candidly, bluntly. Wear it as a badge of honor.
I hold Denny to that same standard. Really I've said that from day one when I walked into this job. I still feel that way today. Fortunately 10 times now we've been able to back it up, been in contention for winning many more. At some point I guess the proof is in the pudding. At that point the chemistry just builds on itself and it's been a great ride.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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