The Inside Line: A vindication of sorts for crew chief Grubb

3/5/2012 1:37:54 PM

Just days after he and Tony Stewart won the 2011 Sprint Cup Series championship, Grubb lost his job at Stewart-Haas Racing. But Grubb quickly found a new team, and it wasn't long at all before he made another trip into victory lane.

Grubb moved over to Joe Gibbs Racing to replace Mike Ford as crew chief for Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota team. And what a turnaround its been for that team so far in the early season. In just their second points race together, Grubb guided Hamlin to an impressive win on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

The Phoenix victory ended Hamlin's 22-race winless drought. He began this season with a fourth-place finish in the rain-delayed Daytona 500.

So guess who's currently atop the point standings?


And who's now 37 points behind him?


Following a 16th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and then a 22nd-place run Phoenix, Stewart is ranked 15th in the point standings. He fell two laps behind just past halfway at Phoenix. Stewart shut his engine off to save fuel during a caution but could not fire it up again, as he slowly coasted onto pit road. The defending series titleholder had more trouble restarting the car while in his pit stall.

Stewart had a phenomenal ending to the '11 season by winning five of the 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship races. But Grubb was informed midway through the Chase that would he not be back with Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet team in 2012. Stewart hired Steve Addington, who had served as Kurt Busch's crew chief at Penske Racing last year.

"I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way," Grubb said. "I try to just think the high road all the time. I feel like I came into a very good situation. Mike Ford built one heck of a team here with the 11 car, and the FedEx Toyota is obviously really strong. Joe Gibbs' organization is very strong."

Hamlin had a banner season in 2010, posting a series-high eight victories and finishing second to champion Jimmie Johnson in points. But Hamlin endured his most disappointing season last year, with only one win (June race at Michigan) and a ninth-place points finish to show for.

"We just never got going last year," he said. "We just didn't have it all together. But we've made some good changes within our organization. Obviously, partnering with TRD [Toyota Racing Development] with our engines, having a common engine amongst all the Toyota cars, is going to be a big plus. We've still got work to do. I'm still going to push for more and more things within our race car. That's the attitude you've got to have to stay on top."

For now, the chemistry between Hamlin and Grubb appears to be good.

"It's still going to build," Hamlin noted. "I honestly feel like it's going to be realistically two months before we're totally clicking and knowing exactly what each other is saying and talking about. So to have success early tells me that we've obviously got a good pairing here."

Team owner Joe Gibbs seems to think so as well.

"I've got a very good feeling about this year, so hopefully we can continue," he said.

Grubb, who became a first-time championship-winning crew chief last season, had been with Stewart's team since the inception of SHR in 2009. Stewart and Grubb collected 11 wins and 59 top-10 finishes during their three years together.

Prior to his arrival at SHR, Grubb worked for Hendrick Motorsports from 2001-08. He served as interim crew chief for Johnson during the first four races of the 2006 season, winning two of those races -- including the Daytona 500. Chad Knaus was suspended after NASCAR officials discovered an unapproved template modification to the rear window on Johnson's Daytona 500 car.

With previous experience at championship-caliber teams in the past, Grubb should have no difficulty fitting in at JGR.

"This is just all new tools and all new people, but it's still the same job," he said. "Luckily, they have a very strong organization already. I don't need to change any of those things. It's coming in and learning the people and learning how to get the best out of all those individuals, and the pieces and parts are there."

Twenty-four races remain before the Chase cut-off at Richmond, but right now, it's a pretty good bet that Hamlin and Grubb will have a spot in the playoffs.