Transcript – Joe Gibbs & Chris Gabehart – Press Conference -04.28.24

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the crew chief, Chris Gabehart for Joe Gibbs Racing. We’ll open it right up to questions.

Q. When you look at what defines a championship season, it starts during the regular season. The pit crew, Denny, how did your team best define that championship win?

CHRIS GABEHART: Well, 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. 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. Texas we had multiple chances to win the race, didn’t get that fortune, cautions didn’t go our way.

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

I just can’t say enough about our pit crew and all the work they’ve went through. Everybody here at the racetrack with the 11 car, week in and week out, just how much fun we’re having doing this. That’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to win races. Winning races wins championships. Really that’s all the 11 is focused on, is winning races.

Q. Does it weigh more to do it against another championship contender like Larson?

CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, I mean, Hendrick Motorsports is clearly at the top of their game right now as well. I just think so much of Kyle Larson’s talent, Cliff’s leadership with the 5. What a top-notch team.

It’s at a racetrack that really defines a driver’s ability to dig down and wrestle one of these 3,500-pound cars around. There’s only a few racetracks as hard as this one, Bristol and Darlington come to mind.

To see Denny be able to persevere in those situations and flat out take the win, two restarts in a row just take it, take control of the race, against a team of that caliber, I’m really proud of him.

THE MODERATOR: We’re also joined by Joe Gibbs. We will continue with questions.

Q. Chris, everybody said yesterday that you can’t really rely on practice ’cause different temperatures and just the change. How much did you rely on practice to determine what you were doing today versus historical Dover?

CHRIS GABEHART: Thanks for the pick, Bob. I don’t know what your win percentage is, but we appreciate it (laughter).

Yeah, every lap on the racetrack, you better be learning something. If you don’t learn something, you’re falling behind. The difficulty is discerning what it is that you’re actually learning and how and when to apply it. You better be learning something every lap.

Anybody that thinks yesterday’s practice was a throwaway in my opinion is just flat out wrong. Every lap here on the racetrack, you better learn something.

Q. Coach, obviously the season has been a back-and-forth battle between you and Hendrick Motorsports. Now as an organization, five wins in 2024. How does it feel to get this one done in a head-to-head with Hendrick?

JOE GIBBS: I think, first of all, all of us really respect Rick and Hendrick, all their teams over there. They’ve done a fantastic job. So to get head-to-head with them, us to come out on top. They’ve won, we’ve won. But it’s a real battle there.

I’m really thrilled with where Denny is. Chris, he was talking about it. At this point in his career, for him to be after it the way he is, he’s in there with Chris, he’s in the simulator. He’s improved at a couple places where he felt like he was off. He took it upon himself in road racing.

I got to tell you, in pro sports, it’s hard to get it all together. I think this team, the 11 team, with Chris’ leadership, really right now I feel so comfortable going to the racetrack. That’s hard to get.

Just appreciate all of our guys. In this sport, we know it’s all really different. You got to have four teams working together to solve the problems. Then when you get to the racetrack, it’s everybody on their own trying to win it.

I just appreciate all of our people, everybody back home. Appreciate Toyota. The other thing for us, that’s Mavis on that car. They’re a new sponsor for us. For us to be able to shake the hands we did, make the phone calls we did, it’s just a huge deal for us and our sport.

Every time we hang our banners there, we get our people together, I tell ’em how important that is because we got a lot of people that depend on the sponsors. Our sport is unlike any other sport in that they were on the car today for three and a half hours, and you don’t get that in other sports.

Just really proud for all of us at our race team. It’s everybody pulling together.

Q. With the way you’ve started the year, Hendrick has started the year, you’re not leaving much oxygen at the top for everybody else. Do you see this as a season-long thing right to the end?

JOE GIBBS: Yeah, for me, I think this is, like you talked about, we’re 25% of the way in. I think there’s other teams that are going to step up out there and make their presence felt.

I think we have got off to a good start, Hendrick and us. This is very competitive. I think that’s what we’ll see as we go forward.

CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, for me, 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 us in the 4 did. In 2020 there for the middle part of the season, it was the 11 or the 4 every week. I can tell you how that ended. The 4 did not make the Championship 4 and the 11 almost did not.

I know Coach 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. We’ve had a great run in this 11 team over the years. But this is not permanent. It will end at some point. We’re just going to work every week to keep it from ending.

JOE GIBBS: I also think about last year. We come down to the end, Fords have been off some, then they swept Phoenix. That’s how close this is.

Q. You give pep talks to Denny. The guy sitting next to you gave pep talks to a lot of people over the years. How has that process evolved for you over the last several years?

CHRIS GABEHART: I don’t know. I mean, for me, I just start with being genuine and telling the truth. I think that’s always a great foundation for anything, is being genuine and speaking the truth.

Everything I tell him I believe. I’m doing the best I can for the 11 car at any given moment, any given hour, any given day, any given week. You have to prove yourself to someone as decorated as Denny’s career had been when I found him in 2019.

I think we’ve spent a lot of years together now proving ourselves to each other. I think he trusts that when I say something, I mean it, and I have the best of intentions in mind, and vice versa.

We work at a high level professionally because of that.

Q. Air blocking is becoming such an accepted tool. Kyle Larson said maybe one thing that would potentially help with that is getting rid of the mirrors. Do you have any thoughts on that?

CHRIS GABEHART: I’ve never heard that.

Q. (No microphone.)

CHRIS GABEHART: I’ve never heard that take so I’d have to think about that particularly a little bit.

One thing I want to say for sure is it’s just the evolution of the sport. We just left Talladega. We’ve seen what direction that racing has evolved to. We went through a phase where we were tandem drafting, way back when you’d have six cars on lead lap strung out all over the track.

The sport is evolving, like any sport would. Aero blocking is not different. Aero blocking would have been just as effective five years ago – and it was – 10 years ago, 15 years ago, if the drivers had learned to perfect it back then the way they have now.

I don’t entirely think it has anything to do with the vehicle being driven as it is the drivers driving them, their acute awareness of physics and how well it works when you take the guy’s air behind you.

Getting rid of tools would be interesting. I’ll call a mirror a tool. We’ve talked about trying to create disparity. Right now these are the rules we play with and I’m proud of Denny for executing at a high level today.