RICHMOND, Va. — Chris Gabhart’s biggest job as Denny Hamlin’s interim crew chief this weekend at Richmond Raceway could be just to sit back and watch the show.
“I can assure you,’’ Gabehart told NBC Sports, “I’ve had a little bit of conversation over the last day or two, he’s coming here motivated. You’re going to get the full force of Denny Hamlin over the next two days, and it’s going to be fun.’’
Hamlin comes to his home track after sweeping the Xfinity and Cup races at Darlington and then finding out this week that both winning cars failed inspection at the NASCAR R&D Center. Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler, has been suspended two races, meaning he also will miss next weekend’s opening playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Hamlin and Gabehart have worked together in the Xfinity Series this season. Gabehart also was Hamlin’s race engineer in the Cup Series in 2015.
Gabehart stresses that his main duty Friday is as Christopher Bell’s crew chief in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. This is Bell’s first time at Richmond.
Also, today marks the debut of the flange fit composite car in the Xfinity Series. Bell will be among 30 drivers in such cars. The rest of the field will use the standard steel-bodied cars but those will weigh 150 pounds more than the composite cars.
Gabehart says he won’t be needed as much by Hamlin’s team Friday for Cup practice or qualifying.
“I’m going to go check on them, but it’s more or less me being plugged in where I can be to get up to speed with what they’ve got going on,’’ Gabehart said. “I won’t be involved in any right rear spring changes or shock changes or any of that stuff. (Wheeler) will still be plugged in from afar.
“There is so much support over there that they don’t need me for any of that. They’re just asking me to sit on the (pit) box with a little bit of experience pushing the (radio) button and making those gut feel calls (in the race).’’