Denny Hamlin was caught off guard in August 2018, when Joe Gibbs Racing management pulled him aside during race weekend at Watkins Glen International.
In the midst of the first winning campaign of his full-time Cup career, Hemlin was told that “we are thinking about making a change.”
Hamlin’s gut reaction?
“I’m like, ‘Oh (exceptive), with me?” Hamlin recalled Wednesday.
Joe Gibbs Racing mentions replacing crew chief Mike Wheeler, who is controlled by Hemlin.
“They’re like, ‘No, we think we have someone who is ready to come into the cup, who is actually a chip on their shoulder to prove that they think he Is the best and he wants to prove it. Hamlin said that we think it will be a good match for you.
The man was Chris Gebart.
He would become the orchestrator of Hemlin’s return to championship contention. Since their pairing in 2019, Hamlin has won 12, tying him with Kevin Harwick for the most wins in the series. Entering this weekend’s playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 pm ET Saturday at NBCSN), Hamlin has six wins.
“Admit for a few weeks, I was very against it,” Hamlin said of JBGR’s decision to go with Gebhart. “I didn’t really know what I was doing to myself. I used to work with Deb Rogers a little (Gebart). And (Gebhart) is a little track guy. … I had a nice chat with him. But I didn’t know. I was afraid of the unknown. But once I sat down and had lunch with him one day, I knew he was going to push me to take me out and that’s it. he has done. ”
A few weeks ago, Gebhart credited Hamlin’s leadership in allowing an atmosphere that placed him with a winning team.
Gebhart told SiriusXM NASCAR radio that he was “haughty” and “thankful” to “haylin” for letting an arrogant crew chief come in and see this race team the way I saw it without any guesses or I had a question that fit me. ”
Hemlin shared her side of how their relationship was strengthened.
“When he came here, even though I’ve been here for 13 years, he just allowed me to say, ‘You know, I understand this is the team that was made for me for many, many years, “Hamlin said. “But I told him to just hire the best people available. You know, friendship aside, friendship is everything. But I want to win more than a few.
He said, “You don’t have to tell me about every personnel change that you make, every crew member you change in and out, just do it. And I trust you are the best available in my team Are going to keep people.
“When it comes to our mechanics, we have a very deep team … and it’s showing with the performance we’ve put on the racetrack and not only that, I’m not a nut and a bolt. I setup them. But not questioned. ”
The setup is more important given the merit between the departure of practice in a season and the COVID-19 epidemic.
This is also important because the division of SMT data between the teams had an advantage for Hemlin at Richmond Raceway, their home track where they won three times and made 13 of the top five of 27.
Richmond is the second race in the opening round of the playoffs. Hamlin made his seventh start.
“Basically I left my notebook on top of the car and it spread all over the racetrack and every driver picked it up,” Hamlin said. “(Data sharing) was an advantage for me in other racetracks. But of course I felt that when I went to Richmond, to Martinsville, I had a tremendous advantage on the field. Not an unfair advantage, just a skill advantage.
He said, “The way I took out those racketrakes, they helped me perform and when other drivers got to see it, it was really kind of an open thing and it somehow took advantage of , Which was probably on the driver’s side. Now we have to trust them to put a better race car on the racetrack, which is very difficult.
Now, Hemlin said the “gold standard” in Richmond and Martinsville is his partner, Martin Truex Jr. Truex competed in last year’s Richmond race and won the last two Martinsville races.
“Now it’s my job to go back into that data, dig into it to find out why (Truex) has beaten me,” Hamlin said. “So it’s time for me to get that information back. Especially since a lot has changed within cars and aerodynamic packages. I got to make sure that I am not leaving anything on the table. ”