The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season was a miserable one for Denny Hamlin. For the first time in his Cup career, he went a full season without reaching victory lane. Hamlin, while making it to the playoffs, didn’t fare well when it was all said and done.
Lack of wins.
Hamlin, did have 10 top five finishes and 17 top 10’s, but his 380 laps led and 12.6 average finishing position just wasn’t good enough to seriously contend.
Now, with his longest winless streak of his career, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is heading into 2019 with a fresh start. The reason?
They’ve had some big offseason changes.
Gone is old crew chief Mike Wheeler and in is new one Chris Gabehart. Also new is a brand new racing package too.
“Well, certainly it’s not up to the expectations of what I believe we’re capable of, but sometimes in sports you just have those seasons where things don’t go right or you just don’t get the job done at the level you expect to, and you’ve got to reset and refocus from that,” Hamlin said of coming into 2019 after a down year in 2018. “I think this year with there being so many different changes within the cars themselves, it’s going to be pretty much a reset for everyone. That allows us to get back to square one. I’m working with a new crew chief who’s coming from the Xfinity side, so it’s kind of — he’s got more of a square plate to kind of work from now. He doesn’t have to look at too many old notes because of the drastic change in the cars, so it allows us all to just come in here like a new race team, like a lot of our team will be this year, and come in there refocused and get ready to hopefully win the first race of the season.”
Gabehart, is equally as excited to show what he can do too.
“Yeah, with this year’s rules package, it’s really exciting because there’s just so many different ways to attack it, and it’s really going to depend on the weekend and the track,” said the new crew chief. “I think you’re going to see a lot of people, especially early on, trying to figure this out, and that’s going to change from racetrack to racetrack, which is going to create good racing and I think a lot of comers and goers week to week.”
Hamlin, said that he saw the initial list of possibilities to be on top of his pit box and Gabehart’s name stood out to him as the best option.
“Well, to be honest with you, they gave me a list of probably three or four guys when they said that we wanted to make a change for next year, and Chris is the obvious one that stuck out to me, even over some that had already accomplished a lot in the Cup Series, just because of his fire,” said Hamlin. “I believe — he’s sitting here beside me, but I believe he feels like he has a lot to prove, so you’ve got to have that mentality to be out there to get everything you can. Obviously I know through talking to him, he’s laser focused on what it takes — it’s going to take for us to be successful this year.
“That, and I knew that we had had chemistry before. I knew that we had had in-race communications and practices before that worked well and were successful, so it was a very easy simple decision for me, and Wheels still remains a great friend of mine and always will be, and the good news is for us he’s kind of still working under the same umbrella. So there will still be some communication there, which is great, but obviously sometimes you’ve just got to mix things up to kind of get the chemistry all where it needs to be, and certainly I’m excited about where we’re heading.”