Denny Hamlin has changed crew chiefs before — and there’s a pattern emerging when it comes to his success in the Daytona 500 after doing so.
Sunday afternoon, Hamlin broke a 47-race winless streak when he led two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates across the finish line for his second Daytona win. Atop the No. 11 pit box was new crew chief Chris Gabehart, who replaced Michael Wheeler over the offseason.
Three years ago, Hamlin had gone to victory lane in his first race working with Wheeler — the 2016 Daytona 500. The duo worked together for three seasons and won five races.
Gabehart now has one win in two starts as a Cup Series crew chief. He served as Hamlin’s crew chief for one race back in 2017.
“Chris is just so prepared, it’s almost information overload,” said Hamlin. “I had to temper him sometimes, like, ‘OK, OK, I got it. I don’t need motivation. Thank you for the information’. But he’s just so prepared, and he never leaves.
“Just in the couple months that I’ve worked with him, he’s just so meticulous about every detail and giving me all the information that I need to go out there and succeed.
“He’s the kind of guy that you look for that can carry you a long way.”
Gabehart’s short track background is what Hamlin said first attracted him. After taking the checkered flag, Hamlin immediately thanked his team before singling out Gabehart to exclaim how proud he was, recognizing the hard work put in.
“I’m a lucky guy,” said Gabehart. “They asked me to come in and try to shake it up and put a fresh perspective on it, and I said ‘Sure!’ I jumped at the chance, because this guy’s got what it takes to win at Homestead and win it all, no question about it.
“If I could be the guy to help provide the spark to get that done then … let’s do it!”
With the victory, Hamlin and Gabehart are the first team all but assured of a 2019 playoff berth.
For the record, Hamlin finished fourth in the other two Daytona 500s after making a crew chief change: 2012 with Darian Grubb and 2015 with Dave Rogers.