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Why Chris Gabehart believes "winning races wins championships"

Chris Gabehart believes there is only one sure way to capturing a NASCAR Cup series title with his driver Denny Hamlin and that’s winning races – something the two don’t intend to stop doing anytime soon.

Chris Gabehart, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry and Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Mavis Tire Toyota Camry

Yet, Gabehart has also been around professional sports, NASCAR especially, long enough to know a strong run of success eventually comes to an end.

Trying to delay or mitigate the downward spiral appears to be one of Gabehart’s most important roles as crew chief of Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team.

Hamlin, 43, has enjoyed a remarkably successful Cup car, with 54 wins spanning nearly 19 full-time seasons, all with JGR.

His run with Gabehart, which began with the 2019 season, has accounted for 23 of those victories, including three so far this year with the most recent coming last Sunday at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway.

Once again, Hamlin looks to be one of the top contenders for the one noticeable hole in his resume – winning a Cup Series title.

For that to happen, however, Gabehart knows he needs to keep his driver and team focused on finding ways to win not just now, but until the last race of the season.

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Mavis Tire Toyota Camry

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Mavis Tire Toyota Camry

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

“Fortunately, I’ve been in this position before where our team’s on a roll, we’re kind of dominating the season at a point like (this),” he said. “In 2020 there for the middle part of the season, it was (us) or (Kevin Harvick) every week.

“I can tell you how that ended. (Harvick) did not make the Championship 4 and (we) almost did not. I know Coach (Joe Gibbs, team owner) has been a part of so many of these situations where when you’re on top at a sport’s top level, everyone is shooting at you.

“None of these teams are happy about it. They’re all working their guts out to try to get there. I want it to last forever. We will work our guts out to make sure it does.”

Gabehart, however, is also realistic.

“We’ve had a great run with this No. 11 team over the years. But this is not permanent. It will end at some point,” he said. “We’re just going to work every week to keep it from ending.”

That’s why even though Hamlin has already collected three wins in the first 11 races of the 2024 season, Gabehart’s sole focus remains on adding to that total.

“In today’s NASCAR racing, to win a race at the Cup level, you have to have it all. You have to have it all nearly every lap of it,” he said. “There’s no other form of motorsports where it’s this tight, where you literally have to have it all and then some, a little bit of fortune to go along with it.

“This team definitely has all the makings of it. Denny is doing a phenomenal job as a driver. The car – the new Toyota Camry – has really given us a lot to work with. Everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing is really pulling the rope and excited to win races.”

Winning is everything

In NASCAR’s current playoff system, drivers are rewarded most for winning – with the most playoff points as well as automatic advancement to the next round.

While a driver can certainly make it to the Championship 4 – or even win the title – with good finishes, winning is the only near-certain path. While a Championship 4 driver doesn’t have to win the season finale to win the title, it’s a guarantee if they do.

Although Hamlin’s results have been somewhat haphazard this season due to his involvement in on-track incidents, the No. 11 team has shown the speed and consistency to contend in virtually every race. The team has also kept its mistakes to a minimum.

“I just can’t say enough about our pit crew and all the work they’ve gone through. Everybody here at the race track with the No. 11 car, week in and week out, just how much fun we’re having doing this,” Gabehart said.

“That’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to win races. Winning races wins championships. Really that’s all the No. 11 is focused on, is winning races.”

And for good reason.

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