An interview with: CHRIS GABEHART
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by our race winning crew chief, Chris Gabehart.
Walk us through the race from your perspective. Please and thank you.
CHRIS GABEHART: It was obviously different for a lot of reasons. Wednesday night, we had rain, ended up being a rain shortened race. It’s a shorter race than a Cup race would normally be here at Darlington so strategy was a little bit different than normal. A lot of things that were different. Because it was a night race, had a lot of grip. Darlington didn’t fall off normally like it does, tires didn’t quite mean as much.
One thing that was consistent was we had a really fast car, drove really good. Denny is obviously really good here. Fortunately we were able to get him to the front. We were really fast once we got there and had some rain break our way at the end.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open up the floor for questions.
Q. Talk about how your tire strategy developed at the end of the race, the decision not to pit.
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, so we actually got ourselves in a little bit of a tire crunch there. When we had that caution that trapped a bunch of cars a lap down, Denny felt like he wanted to use our last set of tires there to get just a couple lap advantage over the 9, restart fourth. There was a lot of strategy going on there.
That was our last set of stickers. We were taking off what had only had a lap and a half on them. Those were going to be the set we put on if we really needed them. They were going to be lap and a half scuffs. It takes a little bit of time once you glue them up to get the lug nuts where you’re confident you can do another pit stop. Can’t put the tires back on in 12 seconds. Takes a little time.
Wasn’t 100% certain we could have a flawless pit stop there. If we had a lug nut fall off, it would have ruined our day. The 19 stayed out with 10 lap old tires, was actually able to lead a good portion of the race after doing it. Clearly clean air was really important.
I knew how good our car was. I felt like we could hold them off for a few laps if we needed to. Then the last bit of it was we knew rain was in the area, it was going to rain any minute.
There were a lot of things that went into it. The bottom line was I felt like we needed the lead there so I just stayed out.
Q. Were you not even considering or worried about the last 20 laps because you seemed to be fairly certain the rain was coming?
CHRIS GABEHART: I was fairly certain it was going to be a rain shortened race. The weather pattern was difficult to determine exactly when it was going to rain. We knew it was really close.
At that point it could have came even under that caution flag. We may have not even went back green, it was that close. There was a lot that went into it. It was not an easy call. At the end of it all we wanted to make sure we had the lead and some clean air and it worked out.
Q. As a crew chief, how nerve wracking is it to not only have to figure out how to keep track of the other cars pitting, but have to monitor the rain?
CHRIS GABEHART: This was a unique situation, for sure. It had a lot of variables playing into it really quickly. Again, trapping a bunch of cars a lap down, kind of having the fortune of knowing where you’re going to restart if you pit. There was just a lot going on for sure. A very unique situation. I can’t say I found myself in that style of situation ever before.
That’s the amazing thing about Cup racing at this level, is you just find so many different ways to get challenged because your competition is so good that you just find yourself in a lot of unique situations. Luckily we came out on the right side of it today.
Q. Typically we go to tracks once or twice a year. Three times for Darlington this year. How important have these two events been for y’all?
CHRIS GABEHART: That’s a great question. We had a really good car Sunday. We had a third place car, but it had what I felt like was a few fatal flaws from a handling perspective.
Being that we get to come back just a few short days later in conditions that will be more like the Southern 500 later this year, myself and the engineers took the opportunity and really swung the bat hard. We didn’t come back with a setup anything like what we raced Sunday even though we were good Sunday.
It was all about trying to learn for the fall, just believing in your guys, your tools. I’m just so proud of my engineers and our process at Joe Gibbs Racing, how we worked through it. I had all the confidence in the world to really swing the bat. It worked out. We had a really good car tonight.
Q. Last year you won at Phoenix, I remember how emotional that was. How much harder has it been, both races you have won have been weird circumstances where you couldn’t celebrate? How hard has it been to celebrate both wins?
CHRIS GABEHART: And the rain. No Victory Lane. Winning rain shortened races are definitely weird because you don’t get the elation of crossing the start/finish line first. It’s not an instantaneous thing; takes some time to develop. Yeah, they have been different for sure.
But personally, I can’t speak for everybody on the team, but for me personally it’s about the accomplishment of winning the race.
I go to Victory Lane and I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not why I do it. Although it’s odd and unique, the satisfaction for me is just as large. I’m just really proud of my team for coming out on top today against such a tough field like it is each and every week in the Cup Series. That’s really what I look forward to most when we win.
Q. What are the challenges for a crew chief when it comes to the same track, races being so close to each other, daytime versus nighttime? What are some things you’ve learned that you can carry over into a similar circumstance with Charlotte?
CHRIS GABEHART: That’s another good question. You guys are watching some unprecedented stuff. I can’t ever recall a time where three or four or five Cup races have been so close to each other.
All of these race teams, ours included, have built a system that kind of works off a seven day a week cycle. We had to be at the racetrack Saturdays and Fridays to practice and qualify. You have a lot more time. These race teams are well oiled machines they optimize that process.
Now with everything that’s went on in our world, that process has been blown up overnight. There wasn’t any scheduling a year out for us to prepare for it. It kind of happened without us knowing it. It really has changed the game.
I can tell you that Monday and Tuesday went by in the blink of an eye. I feel like over the last two months every day has felt like a year to me. I can assure you the last two days felt like minutes. It definitely changes the way you think about it, the way you have to prepare for those events. It really tests the efficiency of your race team.
I’m just so proud to be able to win one of them because I think we got a really good race team where that’s concerned.
Q. You talked about the major changes you made to the setup coming into this race compared to Sunday. Touch on how much your role has changed in regards to communication. Have you been in the shop at all hands on or all via video conference and notes sent over?
CHRIS GABEHART: I’ve been in the shop for the last couple weeks now. So this week and the prior. Previous to that we’ve tried to be really cognizant of social distancing and only being at the shop if necessary. With today’s tools from a technology perspective, myself and my engineers, a lot of my guys, didn’t need to be there.
But the last couple weeks we have been there on and off. It varies on who’s there and when. My entire race team is not there every day. It’s still very strange. My engineers have effectively still been working from home. We’re doing a lot of meetings just like this.
It’s challenging. Golly, this sport is so tough as it is, to have something like this thrown at you out of the blue. It’s really neat because all of the top competitors of this sport, what they’re good at is adapting whatever comes their way, whether it’s minute by minute, hour by hour, year by year. We are the very best in the sport as a Cup Series at adapting.
This has been one of the bigger adaptations that I can recall. Here we’re in Victory Lane, so not too bad, or a form of Victory Lane anyway.
Q. How convenient is the fact that the first few races back for NASCAR have been in the Carolinas considering how a lot of the race teams are based in North Carolina?
CHRIS GABEHART: That’s a good question.
I think it’s really important in a lot of ways because, again, the seven day cycle is now being shrunk down to three days or so. A lot of that time can get eaten up in just driving to the airport, getting on a plane, waiting to take off, flying there, driving to your hotel. There’s a lot of things that eat up time that you wouldn’t necessarily think about.
In a scenario like this where literally every hour counts, it really does make it easier for us to kind of kick back into not only gear but into overdrive almost. It’s definitely made a big difference.
THE MODERATOR: Chris, congratulations on the win. Safe travels back to Charlotte. Good luck in the Coca Cola 600 this weekend.
CHRIS GABEHART: Thanks a lot, guys. Appreciate it.
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