Denny Hamlin is "at the sweet spot of his career" - Gabehart

Jim Utter

Chris Gabehart began working with Hamlin at the start of the 2019 season and they immediately found success winning the season-opening Daytona 500.

Hamlin ended up with one of the most successful seasons of his career, piling up six wins, career-bests in top-fives (19) and top-10s (24) and advancing to the final four to contend for the series championship.

Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team ultimately came up short for the title, but they’ve wasted no time in putting themselves back into contention this season.

Sunday was Hamlin’s fourth win of the 2020 season – the most of any driver – and his sixth at Pocono Raceway, tying Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon for the most wins at that track.

'Our biggest competition is ourselves'

Sunday’s victory came in large part to a clever pit strategy utilized by Gabehart and one day after Hamlin had finished second to Kevin Harvick in the first race of the unique doubleheader.

“You just have to keep executing. The one thing I love about where the No. 11 team is at right now, our biggest competition is ourselves. Martinsville we had an awful race, beat ourselves,” Gabehart said.

“We had a much better car at the Coke 600 in all honesty, didn't get to show it because we beat ourselves. Phoenix, beat ourselves. Running in the top three, wrecked, didn't get a chance to show what we had there.

“What I love about where our race team is at right now is it’s a competition against us. Execute, execute, execute. If you can do that, you have a shot to win. That’s all we can ask for.”

Gabehart said it was apparent as the 2019 season went on, he and Hamlin had developed an excellent relationship.

Coming into this season, Gabehart didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be even better considering they now had a whole season behind them working together.

“The first half of last year, it was all about build a notebook, build a language with Denny and the engineers, mechanics, figuring out how to optimize a weekend,” Gabehart said. “While we did well going into those weekends the first time, certainly it’s our job to come out better.

“Now we have a notebook built up. I think it shows. I think the first half of our year is a lot stronger than last year’s first half, even though it was good.”

The best is yet to come?

Gabehart calls the timing of his pairing with Hamlin “the perfect storm.”

“He's in my view at the sweet spot of his career, will be for years to come. He’s summed all of the experiences, the goods and the bads he's had, brought them to the table to me. He's given me that platform to work with,” Gabehart said.

“Likewise. While I don't have the experience at the Cup level that he does, I’ve effectively raced professionally for 28 years now at some level or another. I think it’s just the best of both worlds colliding in one.”

Gabehart also believes Hamlin’s best seasons may yet lie ahead of him.

“Denny Hamlin has been around this sport for a long time. He's lived through the pressure, through the ups and downs. He knows the race tracks, understands rules changes, knows how to work with his race team,” Gabehart said.

“All that comes with experience that some of the younger guys have to get that under their belt. He's still amazingly talented from a mental acuity and a physical point of view. He's as sharp as he's ever been.”

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