Xfinity Series Spotlight: Chris Gabehart, racer turned crew chief

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Chris Gabehart had hopes of being a NASCAR driver, but ending up the crew chief of the No. 20 Xfinity Series team at Joe Gibbs Racing is just fine, too.

“I was destined to be in racing some way, shape or form no matter how much my dad hoped that one day I’d want to be a pilot instead,” Gabehart told NBC Sports with a laugh.

His grandfather and father were both racers and his grandfather even dabbled in NASCAR in the 1960s. Gabehart was in a go-kart by the time he was 10 and his career culminated with the 2007 CRA/ARCA Super Series championship. It was around that time that Gabehart realized he had probably done all the driving he would and racing would cost him more money than he would ever make.

“So here I am working on them now,” he said.

His mechanical engineering degree from Purdue University paid off. Gabehart’s time in Late Models resulted in him crossing paths with Kyle Busch. Conversations with Busch and his father, Tom, landed Gabehart at Kyle Busch Motorsports to work on his Late Model program.

He soon moved up to Joe Gibbs Racing as an engineer, spending time on Busch and Denny Hamlin’s teams. In January, Gabehart was named the crew chief for Erik Jones in his rookie Xfinity season.

At 35 and married, Gabehart has begun to see the world outside of motorsports but being the racer at heart that he is, he admits that’s a large portion of his life. Which means you’re likely to find Gabehart following his driver to a Late Model race when the schedule permits.

“A lot of what I do is race,” Gabehart said. “I do enjoy racquetball, hanging out with the guys, going to movies, going to friend’s house. That kind of stuff, but nothing extraordinary, I don’t have the time for it. I’m a simple guy. I race, and I sleep, and I eat.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: Expand on your decision to get out of the driver’s seat and how meeting Kyle Busch played a role in that

Gabehart: When I was done with school up in Indiana at Purdue I was racing with a Late Model team out of Indianapolis. Started building shocks for a company called Advance Racing Suspension as a side job and was just full blown racer, doing well, but was running out of funding. Once I won the championship in 2007, the team I was with, that was about as far as they were going to take me in terms of money and ability. I built my own car to run a few choice races because I love racing, and I wanted to keep going. Did a part-time deal in 2008 up there in building shocks and crew chiefing and driving, kind of the whole thing, and then in 2009 I took a full-time crew chief job in Atlanta, Georgia, with a kid named TJ Reid with Late Model stuff. Brought my car down there and started a little shock business, so that path was continuing to develop. I was staying busy, phone consulting a little bit, and kind of had it all going on.

I always knew the NASCAR thing was in the back of my mind; I wanted to drive when I was a younger guy, but I realized that’s probably not going to happen. I thought if I’m ever going to try (something else) someone with the connections and ability of Kyle Busch would be a great way to try it out. So Tom (Busch) and I ended up talking, and I got the crew chief deal for Kyle Busch Motorsports for 2010 and moved to North Carolina. I did that for a year and was fairly successful at that. With my engineering degree Kyle was needing some help on trucks as well, so in 2011, I did Late Model stuff and Trucks. Then towards the end of that year, there was an opportunity on his Cup team to be an engineer, so things were obviously going well and again, I looked at Kyle as a great resource to try and advance my career, so I’m like, well, I better take this opportunity, too. To Joe Gibbs Racing I came, and here I am.

NBC Sports: Was it always racing for you, or did you try any other sports when you were younger?

Gabehart: In grade school, I played baseball and basketball and was pretty decent at both. But again, I started racing pretty competitively at the age of 11, regionally and even starting to tour nationally in go-karts. At a pretty young age, it was either baseball and basketball, summer and fall type sports, and it quickly became the choice of I’m going to race, or I’m going to play the stick-and-ball sports. I chose racing.

NBC Sports: How much of your approach do you have to change when you go from a more experienced driver to a younger driver?

Gabehart: I think the skill sets can be very different. For me, my previous driving experience definitely helps me every day at my job. For a younger driver, I would say I lean on my experience to help pull information out of them by trying to relate to them based on my past experiences. So if I’m getting feedback from Christopher (Bell) and now Erik, I think I understand what he means, but I’m leaning on some experience that I have. I know the right questions to ask to get the information out of him whereas with a more experienced driver like Kyle, he knows what he needs to tell me, so instead I lean on my past experiences to understand what he’s saying.

NBC Sports: Does it make your job easier being a former driver?

Gabehart: No question about it. There are many successful crew chiefs out there who haven’t driven, but I make it no secret that they are way smarter than I because I don’t know how I could do it without previous experiences. I tip my hat to those who have never driven very much but have become very successful in this sport because, for me, I lean on it every day. But I think that highlights something that is really neat about my job at this level and above – it’s so much more than making a race car go fast. It’s managing people and projects and getting the most out of people and looking far enough ahead to determine what you need six months from now and making sure the driver has what he needs and gets along well with the team. All of those things have nothing to do with particularly making a race car go fast and certainly not my past driving experience, but they’re vital to making a good race team. There’s a great reason why you don’t have to be a past driver to be an excellent crew chief, so there’s so much more to it than that.

NBC Sports: Crew chiefs are thought of as the ones constantly working, but there has to be things you do to get away from racing?

Gabehart: (laughs) Well I must tell you I’ve been married for about two-and-a-half years now, but I’ve been with the same woman for almost 13 years. Before her, I raced, and that’s what I did. After her, I race a lot, but she is expanding my horizons. The past couple of years we’ve been on big offseason vacations which is something I never did before her. This year we’re going to Hawaii for a week and a half. Last year we went to Sweden and London over the New Year and went above the Arctic Circle in Sweden and to the Ice Hotel up there. It was amazing, right? The whole thing was great. So what do I do and what I enjoy? I don’t know. It’s not like I play basketball in my spare time, but she is definitely helping me expand my horizons and see the world, so that’s kind of cool.

NBC Sports: Being in the Late Model world is much smaller than NASCAR, so when you changed careers when did it strike you that you were in the big time?

Gabehart: My first week in Daytona when I was on the Cup side. It’s a long week because you have the Unlimited before the Duel races. So that’s long and grueling because you have to have three cars ready – backup, the Unlimited car, and the Daytona 500 car. Then you fly back home for a day or two and then you’re back down there for a week. Well, the Daytona 500 that year was the year (2012) it rained out and we had a Monday night 500. Then after that our planes were fogged in, so that week and a half was, ‘Wow, if this is what this is going to be like, I don’t know if I can handle this (laughs).’ It was just non-stop one event after the next.

This year from a crew chief perspective, we had the schedule of Daytona week, then Atlanta, and the three weeks out west. Well, I liken that to a college hazing because as a crew chief you’re forced to plan and organize those five races before you ever leave for Daytona because you just don’t have enough cars, people, and resources to force it through each week. The last race was Fontana, and most of the planning and organizing and shipping of equipment back and forth was all done, and when I was done with that, I said to myself, ‘Wow, that has been a rough five weeks, I do not know why they pile it all up front like that.’ But I feel like I made it, and I’m a member of the club now.

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Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season


NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.


Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota


Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.


Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22


While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.