NASCAR Cup Series
How Richmond May Have Saved Denny Hamlin's Season
Apr 4, 2022
It’s 1996 and Rodney Childers just won a 20-lap WKA Dirt World Championship Sprint Kart race at the Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium in a class that also featured Chris Gabehart.
It’s not the last time the two would battle and they’re still racing each other today at the highest level of NASCAR. Somewhere in between, Childers took a path that ran through Late Model Stock Cars, where he would win roughly a dozen races and make a Busch Series start in 2000.
Meanwhile, Gabehart went the Super Late Model path and became the CRA Super Series champion in 2007 with an All-American 400 victory in 2008.
It took some time, but both eventually transitioned from drivers to crew chiefs and have become the two most winningest program managers of the past five years. Their drivers, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin battled for the 2020 championship, and they battled for another race win against each other on Sunday at Richmond Raceway.
It was a race that was decided, primarily, by the decisions made atop the pit box -- which provides a moment to spotlight the competitive friendship between Childers and Gabehart.
There has always been a tremendous amount of respect and friendship between the two racers. They enjoy competing against each other, occasionally wish they could be racing each other as drivers, but equally enjoy the strategic chess match their teams engaged in on Sunday.
"I love racing those guys," Childers told Racing America after the race. "He'll give me some shit (that they won) but he's a good dude and deserves it.
"He's got a really good driver that gets around this place and both us are very fortunate to be in the situations we're in with good such people. It’s really a lot of fun to race against your friends."
Childers broke in as a crew chief in 2005 with fellow Late Model Stock contender, two-time Southern National champion Scott Riggs. He won his first race in 2009 with David Reutimann and really took off as a top team manager in 2014 when he was paired with Harvick at Stewart Haas Racing.
They won the championship in their first season together and have been contenders ever since.
After working with Kyle Busch Motorsports in Late Models and the Truck Series, Gabehart was fast tracked through the Joe Gibbs Racing system from 2016-2018 with Erik Jones, Ryan Preece and Daniel Suarez. He first was paired with Hamlin as crew chief in 2019 where they have won 16 races together in that time.
Gabehart echoed many of the same sentiments as his friend and rival.
"He and I both know how fortunate we are to play a game for a living at the top level, to think about it all day, every day and compete," Gabehart said. "When you do it and the level that he’s reached, and one that I’m trying to emulate in winning a championship, you start to realize there is more to it than personal goals and accomplishments.
"It’s about the love of the game. Competing in these movements, win, lose or draw, I’m just happy that we get to do it. He’s happy for me today just like I would be happy for him because we both understand the sacrifices it takes to get here."