Darian Grubb intends to remain at JGR next year but for now his focus in on the title.
MIAMI – On paper, the Darian Grubb-led No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team should have an advantage entering the season finale.
After all, this is the same team that won at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. And Grubb is the same crew chief that only three years ago coached Tony Stewart to the title and the win.
One year earlier, Hamlin held a 15-point lead entering Homestead. His previous crew chief, Mike Ford, made a strategic error in the penultimate race at Phoenix and Hamlin’s 33-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson was cut by more than half.
A new opportunity
But Johnson isn’t around to defend his title. And none of the other three crew chiefs, Rodney Childers (No. 4), Todd Gordon (No. 22) or Luke Lambert (No. 31), has ever been in the title hunt entering the season finale.
The pressure shouldn't make us crack, whereas some of the other guys who don't have that experience may.
“I feel like being in that position there running for the championship and coming in as the underdog and having to go out and win the race and perform to top level and being able to do that, even through adversity in 2011, it at least gives all my guys the confidence that they know that we can at least make it through that, no matter what the race throws at us,” Grubb said. “We should be able to adapt and make sure we can do what we have to do to perform.
“The fact that we were able to win there last year means that we know how to run up front, and the car was fast, and the team works really well together. It's still the same group of guys that are doing all that work. Going down there, we have a lot of confidence, and I think Denny has won that race twice, I've won that race twice as a crew chief, and I've won a championship down there in similar circumstances.
“The pressure shouldn't make us crack, whereas some of the other guys who don't have that experience may. But we're all professionals and we all do this for a living. It's what we all look forward to, so everybody is going to step up their game and work really hard to win that race or at least beating the competitors. We've got to be ready for about everything.”
Fighting through adversity
And last Sunday, they were. Hamlin entered Phoenix tied for the points lead. After the team recovered from 36th-place, one lap down following a flat tire, Hamlin rallied to finish fifth. The driver proclaimed over the radio, “I told you we were going to do it. That’s never give up right there. We’re going to win it next week!”
Although Grubb, 39, is the pragmatist of the two, he shares his driver’s enthusiasm.
“Our confidence level is definitely high,” Grubb said. “We had a good race there last year, obviously, and we had a really good test there a few weeks ago to where we were able to try a lot of the same things we did last year to see how those worked with this year's package, and so far, so good.
“We thought we had decent speed at the test. We're taking a car back down there that we've raced before, and it's even better in the wind tunnel than what we had there at the test, so we're hoping to go back with even more speed, and then preparation here at the shop is just basically the same as usual.
“Everybody has done a really good job up to this point at all of Joe Gibbs Racing to make sure we have everything ready, and we're hoping we're going to unload fast.”
Grubb doesn’t appear intimidated by the momentum Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing crew picked up during their Phoenix win on Sunday. In the three seasons that Grubb has overseen Hamlin and the crew, he’s seen tremendous progress on and off the track. Grubb sites Hamlin’s laid-back demeanor for setting the tone for the team.
He's matured a ton since the last time he was in a battle for the championship, and he's realizing now that being relaxed and going in there and making sure you're able to adapt to any situation that comes up is what's going to matter.
Darian Grubb on Denny Hamlin
“He knows that we just basically have to go down there and perform and hope we can out‑perform the others,” Grubb said. “The stress and adding stress is not going to add anything to our performance, and he's matured a ton since the last time he was in a battle for the championship, and he's realizing now that being relaxed and going in there and making sure you're able to adapt to any situation that comes up is what's going to matter, just like it did this last round.
“We had some pretty big problems at Phoenix and he didn't get out of control. We made sure we managed the situation and we were able to race our way back up and get a top 5 and make our way into the Championship Round. That's what it's all about, and his attitude has been that way. It's more relaxed and just making sure he keeps all the guys around him relaxed.”
All in good time
Even before the Chase began, there were rumors of a shakeup among the crew chiefs at Joe Gibbs Racing for next season. On Tuesday, Grubb acknowledged he would remain with the company in 2015 but did not reveal his assignment. And although he has not yet renewed his contract, Grubb is expected to be the crew chief for Carl Edwards and the No. 19 team.
For now, however, Grubb’s focus is strictly on the title.
“We're still working towards winning a championship, and I'm going to be here next year doing the same thing,” Grubb said. “We have had some talks internally about what next year's plans are, but there's nothing that's ready to be announced and/or we're not working towards that for next year, either.
“I'm sure winning a championship with the team and stuff might have some bearing on some of those discussions and things, as well. We're going to wait until Monday after Homestead to even think about that stuff.”