By admin | March 4, 2012
By Richard Allen
Much was made of the news at the end of last season when Tony Stewart announced that his Stewart-Haas Racing organization would be relieving crew chief Darian Grubb of his duties at the end of the campaign. As it turned out, Grubb led Stewart’s #14 team to five wins over the course of the final ten events on the NASCAR schedule and a Sprint Cup title.
It came as little surprise that the recently fired pit boss was quickly able to find work. Joe Gibbs Racing hired Grubb and placed him in charge of the efforts for Denny Hamlin and the #11 Toyota team. It was thought within that organization that the driver’s relationship with previous crew chief Mike Ford had staled and a change was needed.
The newly formed pairing of Hamlin and Grubb has produced immediate results. In Daytona, Hamlin moved up from his 31st starting position, avoided all the incidents and came home with a solid 4th place finish.
But it is on tracks such as the Phoenix International Raceway where a team’s real strength can be seen. The restrictor plate racing on the tracks in Daytona and Talladega is so outside the norm that season long judgments are impossible to make. The oddly shaped one-mile PIR track is much more indicative of the type of racing that will take place throughout the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
And in Phoenix, the Hamlin/Grubb combination proved to be on top of their game despite their short time together. After a caution flag flew on lap 248, Grubb called Hamlin to the pit area for what would prove to be the final stop of the day on the #11 JGR machine.
On the ensuing restart, Hamlin was able to outrun Kevin Harvick and take the lead. From that point the Chesterfield, Virginia native and current Scottsdale, Arizona resident showed the way to the checkered flag. However, there were some tense moments. Not only did Harvick close the gap late in the going before his car sputtered, but fuel proved to be a major concern for the JGR Toyota as the laps clicked off.
Hamlin gave credit to his new pit boss for his ability to make it to the end with gas still in the tank. “He just kept preaching it to me how to save,” Hamlin said of Grubb’s coaching. “He’s coached Tony Stewart into a lot of fuel mileage wins and Tony’s never been the best at fuel mileage. He was the guy who made the calls and told me the pace I needed to run and he got me through it.”
For the record, Grubb’s former boss stalled his car while trying to preserve his own fuel supply under a caution when he intentionally killed his engine and allowed the car to coast only to discover that the engine would not re-fire when he attempted. Stewart finished two laps off the pace in the 22nd position.
Coming into 2012 there were question marks regarding many teams as the number of off season driver and crew member changes was staggering. Although it’s still very early, it looks as if Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb have gone a long way toward answering any questions about their new relationship.
For the recently fired then hired Grubb, winner of six of the last twelve Sprint Cup races as a crew chief, that must be very satisfying.
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