By Toby Christie (Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie)
When a driver, like Denny Hamlin, who has 31-career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series goes winless for an entire season, it’s probably time to make some changes. That’s precisely what Joe Gibbs Racing revealed it’s doing when the team unveiled their crew chief lineup for the 2019 season on Thursday.
Chris Gabehart will move into the crew chief role for Hamlin, taking over for Mike Wheeler who will now serve as Matt DiBenedetto’s crew chief at Leavine Family Racing.
Gabehart has secured nine wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Joe Gibbs Racing over the last three seasons. He will now try to gel with Hamlin, a Virginia native, to get back to victory lane.
“With such a short offseason it’s important to start work toward the 2019 season immediately and we are proud with the teams we have assembled now, both in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and in the Xfinity Series,” said Joe Gibbs, Owner of Joe Gibbs Racing in a team press release. “With Chris Gabehart joining Adam Stevens, Chris Gayle, and Cole Pearn on the Cup side we believe we have the right leaders in place to benefit our entire organization.”
JGR also announced that Eric Phillips, who has led the No. 18 JGR Xfinity Series team to eight wins over the last three seasons, will be moving to the No. 11 team as well in the car chief capacity. This cements the fact that the team is committed to getting the FedEx car back to the top of the sport.
Hamlin had won at least one race in each of the last 12 seasons before being shutout in 2018.
Taking over Gabehart’s role of crew chief for the No. 19 JGR NASCAR Xfinity Series team will be Jeff Meendering.
Meendering has been the crew chief for Cole Custer for the past couple of seasons, and ultimately guided the No. 00 team to a Championship 4 appearance in 2018. Now he will try to guide Brandon Jones to his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory, and possibly a championship bid.
Ben Beshore, who has served as engineer for Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team, will get his shot at being a crew chief as he will slide into the No. 18 NASCAR Xfinity Series garage stall.
JGR also made a huge addition to their farm system, as they were able to lure Mark McFarland away from MBM Motorsports in the ARCA Series.
McFarland served as team manager and crew chief for MBM in ARCA and the K&N Pro Series. MBM Motorsports won the ARCA championship with Sheldon Creed and MBM drivers also finished second and fourth in the championship standings.
Now, McFarland will attempt to turn JGR’s ARCA program into a powerhouse to mirror their Cup and Xfinity Series programs.