An interview with: Darian Grubb
THE MODERATOR: Our final guest today is Darian Grubb who is the crew chief of the No. 14 Office Depot Mobil 1 Chevrolet piloted by Tony Stewart. The 14 team has a 3- point deficit in the standings and is entering this weekend as one of the closest points battles in NASCAR history 3 point. Darian welcome and why don't you talk about your thoughts and strategies on winning the championship this weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway?
DARIAN GRUBB: Thanks for having me on. Just trying to do the same thing we've been doing the last half of the season. Just going out there for maximum points. We know if we win the race, that's our goal. We can't finish any worse than second. That's what we do. We go out there for the win.
Q. Darian, you had a good run last year even though Tony's history there has been kind of hit and miss since they reconfigured the track. Where do you go for your baseline setting there?
DARIAN GRUBB: It's a good thing for us that we did run good there last year because that is a very similar set-up to what we've run good at with the mile and a halves this year. We've hit on that set-up last year. We've been doing it ever since.
We felt like we should be faster. We felt like we had a definite Top 5 car. We feel like it's worked out this year at Vegas, and all the tracks that are fairly similar where we feel we can take a lot of that data over to Homestead and have a good year.
Q. Given how close Tony and Carl are at this point, can you tell me what kind of pressure is on a crew chief at this point to really hit the set-up, given even a couple of positions can cost either driver here?
DARIAN GRUBB: It's about the same as it is every other week, honestly. We want to go out there and have the best set-up we possibly can have, and also have the adaptability to it where if something goes different with the track condition we have to be able to adjust to those changes as the race goes on. Make sure the car was fast enough all day long regardless of the situation we're put in.
We go down there like we do week to shoot to be the fastest car off the truck, fastest car in qualifying, and fastest car in the race. The pressure is the same. This week there is a little more on the line, but the majority of that we just put on the driver's shoulders because we still do the same job in the pits every week.
Q. I asked the same thing of Bob. It's just a back grounder question. But you have a mechanical engineering degree from Virginia Tech, I read. When you were studying for that, was your career plan toward NASCAR or in a different direction? If it was in a different direction, how did you veer into what you're doing now?
DARIAN GRUBB: That's pretty funny. I'm just very happy working with anything mechanical. I worked in my dad's construction company growing up and have a mechanical mind. I took all my toys apart, destroyed them and put them back together all those things. That's how I got into the mechanical engineering kind of thing.
Racing, was kind of a byproduct of that. I just had a lot of friends that were involved in Friday and Saturday night shows around home and I got involved in that. I was doing it as a hobby all the time on weekends. Leaving classes early to make sure I could make it to the tracks in Florida if that's where we were running that weekend and things like that.
I put my resume on the internet and got a job doing my hobby as a full-time job. I can't ask for anything better than that. I was paying my own way and doing everything for it, and now I get to do the best thing in the world having a job as a hobby. So it's pretty cool.
Q. What was your first job out of college?
DARIAN GRUBB: Product design engineer with a heavy trucking industry. I designed aerodynamic devices and stuff for Volvo trucks. The big rigs you see on the highway.
Q. What did you most bring from the Hendrick operation over to Tony's?
DARIAN GRUBB: I would say probably just the mentality of empowering the people around you to do the best they can do from the positions. Mr. Hendrick has instilled that in the organization.
Probably the biggest lesson I've learned from him is making sure the people around you are strong enough to do what you want to do so you don't take all that load yourself. Jeff Meendering and Jonathan and Scott, and all the guys we have here on the team do a great job taking their workload, and me not having to babysit all the time. They do a great job of getting the job done. I'm able to concentrate on what I need to concentrate on to be a good crew chief.
Q. I saw you on NASCAR Now on Sunday morning, and I thought you said something interesting. You were talking about how Stewart-Haas, the cars have been good for some time now. Then you said the driver is now up on the wheel. So has something changed with Tony over the last nine weeks in the way he's driving or the way he's attacking races?
DARIAN GRUBB: I really think it has. I think it's now more that we are in the Chase, we are in contention, and just that little extra fire is there in every person on the team. Everybody's trying that extra 10% to make sure everything we do is topnotch.
We try to do that every week, but now that everything is on the line the last ten weeks, that it's a little bit easier to know what your goal is. You're always wanting to run good, but now we know the championship is the end goal, and it's within our reach. So that extra little bit of fire and desire is what you're seeing on the racetrack.
Q. There's been so much speculation about the team. You guys have been without a competition director for half of the year. Are you going to be back with Stewart- Haas next year?
DARIAN GRUBB: We'll leave that to after Sunday and figure out what's going to happen there. Our goal is to win the championship and we'll decide everything else after that.
Q. Along those same lines, has it been difficult at all to work through the last few months with all the rumors and uncertainty and not knowing necessarily who is going to be in what position where next year?
DARIAN GRUBB: Definitely not. We've still got the same goals we've always had that we want to go out and win the championship. Winning races is the way to do that. What we've done the last nine weeks, we've shown that we have the capability to do that. We're almost 50-50 on that, so hopefully we can continue that streak and get it to be a 50% deal and win at Homestead.
Q. Is there anything -- have you guys found a better set-up with this new tire the last couple of months? Or is there something -- I mean, have you found or just hit on something that you feel has caused this kind of turnaround?
DARIAN GRUBB: I really don't think so. There are tracks that we've had new tires and tracks that we've had the same tires. A lot of it is continuing to build on that notebook that we've been building for three years now. We've gotten better at some tracks and gotten worse at some tracks with the things we're trying.
A lot of things just stacked up to where we've had the good data we've needed to have for the last ten races and being able to apply that to the racetrack. Everybody's just digging in a little deeper and working a little bit harder trying to find whatever's left out there for performance.
The competition level is so high that you have to be on top of the game. You can't settle on what you're doing before and think you're going to be competitive. You have to progress every week.
Q. I think I've sort of asked one of my questions. I haven't been able to figure out a specific thing that turned it from you at the time Tony was complaining in Michigan to the start of the chase. So there is nothing specific you can point to in that time period that turned it this season?
DARIAN GRUBB: Definitely not. We haven't changed anything in the game plan and they way we've been approaching every week. We've been doing the same job since the start of the season.
We've had chances to win at least four out of the first five races, and it always still kind of gets on my nerves looking back and seeing how we didn't win in Vegas. That was the one win Carl got. Those are the three points he came into the Chase as a bonus over us, so that is the gap right now. That is the definite six-point turn around. We would have had three, and he would have lost three at that point.
Everybody has those what-ifs all the way during the season. So we've had fast cars, and we've had chances to win races that we didn't capitalize on. Now all those things seem to keep rolling our direction now that we seem to not have the bad luck and the issues that we've had mid-season. So now we'll try to keep that momentum and that ball rolling.
Q. One other thing I was wondering about is this a sign that Hendrick equipment is still sort of the dominant equipment -- that Hendrick equipment is still the best in the garage?
DARIAN GRUBB: I have to think so. That's what I'm used to and familiar with. So we were able to perform year-in and year-out with what we do. With what Mark Whitman and the guys in the chassis shop do and Jeff Andrews the guys in the engine shop. I don't think we're lacking for anything. We're able to go out there and compete with the best of the best every weekend. 90% of the time we're able to come out on top. I feel like we're definitely not lacking anything there.
But I think the competition level has definitely stepped up between all the programs. It's a definite battle every week. You're going to see the strengths of every organization every week, and we just hope we can capitalize on it when the time comes.
Q. I know you've talked about this some in the past but could you talk about winning the Daytona 500 with Jimmie and 2006 and that whole experience of jumping in with him and how that may compare with what a championship might mean to you in this role?
DARIAN GRUBB: That was really cool being able to step in that week. That was a team that I had been with for several years at that point and got a lot of friends. It was a friends and family atmosphere, much similar to what I'm in right now with the guys I've surrounded myself with here at Stewart-Haas Racing. To where if you can go out there and pull off the win at the Daytona 500 against the obstacles and now we're trying to pull off this championship against the obstacle of competing against that 99 team, if we can do that, it makes it that much sweeter because the people around you are the people that helped get you here and helped actually build the team into what it is today.
It's very similar in that aspect, and it's much cooler knowing if we can pull this thing off, we did it as a team effort.
Q. Could you speak to the dynamics of working for Tony as an owner as well as having to balance the driver-crew chief relationship with them?
DARIAN GRUBB: It's definitely got its ups and downs with that, because Tony does a really good job at separating the two on Monday through Thursday. He puts the owner hat on and does what he has to do to try to help run the organization and those things.
When Friday through Sunday comes along, we get to the racetrack, and he switches into driver mode. He works for me at that point, and we do a really good job separating the two to where we get to the racetrack, and we have a common goal. We run towards that every week.
Q. Darian, now that it's down to the two of you guys for the championship, when you sit on the box and decide on pit calls, is it easier because all you need to do is focus on the 99, or is it more challenging because you're still focused on winning and everybody could be doing all sorts of other things out there?
DARIAN GRUBB: I'd say it's more of the latter there. We planned to go down there and do everything we can do to win the race. We are, of course, competing against the 99 for the championship, but regardless of what else happens out there no matter where he finishes, if we can win the race, it's a guaranteed championship for us. Even if he finishes second and leads the most laps, we have the tiebreaker at that point with the number of wins.
So knowing that, our goal going down there is to be in front. That is all that matters. That matters for all 42 competitors that we're running against, not just the one.
Other than that it comes down to if we're running 5th or he's running 8th, it becomes a matter of position and trying to wonder what the 99 is doing and those things. But we have nothing to lose. We're coming in second. We can't finish any worse than second. All we can do is go out there and shoot for the win.
Q. That being said, how challenging has this season been? I've had crew chiefs talk about there's been so many Hail Marys thrown out there and how many risks are being taken by other crew chiefs. How do you deal with that? How do you not get sucked into that or how do you be a part of that and play a part of that game? It seems there are so many different decisions being made out there, especially with the what the tire does. How does that factor in and how does that play a role in what you decide to do?
DARIAN GRUBB: It definitely decides that every week. We always have those options of what you're going to do and how bold you're going to be as far as the calls go, but that is the nature of the sport. The competition level has gotten so close, those calls make the difference now whether you can win or finish 10th. That seems to pay off at times for certain people but then other weeks it doesn't.
But thinking back to the first Phoenix race, I came in for a two-tire call and everybody else who did four. We had a 4-second lead with 27 laps to go, and then the caution came out, And that forced us back in to the guys with four tires ran all over us and we finished seventh. But we were going to walk away with the race on that one if things had played our way.
You have that every week. You have those scenarios where you have to play the game. It's another one of those where Phoenix I waited for everybody else to pit and made a decision to do fuel only so we could make up time on the racetrack.
It's a game everybody's playing. You sit there and watch the 22 car stayed out, and the two tires and all these things. That is the topsy-turvy racing. You see the guys from the back come to the front the way the strategy plays out. It's even more of a game and deciding factor every week.
That is part of what makes this job so fun. Now you can affect the outcome a lot more with the decisions you make, and the calls you make on top of the box with your experience. It's just a matter now of making sure you have all the data you need to have to make the correct decisions.
Q. How much does your stomach churn when you're waiting to make those calls or making those calls?
DARIAN GRUBB: A little bit. It's almost one of those things that that's what we live on. Your stomach doesn't really churn because it's on an adrenaline high at that point. You're making the call and feel like it's 100%. The stomach turns afterwards when it doesn't work out or something like that. It's the heat of the moment.
You have to go with what your gut feeling is and what you think you need to do to try to win the race. The best finish possible. Then afterwards is when you have to deal with consequences.
Q. Could you describe what your relationship is like with Tony? How would you describe it and how would you say it's changed or grown over the two years you've been working together?
DARIAN GRUBB: I would say it's good. We've gotten to be pretty good friends on and off the racetrack. We've spent a lot of time together. We know each other a little better than we should at times. We eat, sleep, and live together pretty much half the time at the racetrack, and try to accomplish on the racetrack.
So it's a tough dynamic, kind of a love-hate brother relationship at times. When you feel each of you needs to do something, but it's the best of times when you can go out there and make things work and get on top of the victory stage and take those pictures with the trophy.
Q. When he hired you, did he explain what he's looking for? Because he's only had a few crew chiefs. Was he looking for something specific in a personal relationship with a crew chief?
DARIAN GRUBB: No, not really. As I said, with me it's more one of those things that they already had some discussions with what they were going to do. They were looking more for the comfort level of the Hendrick chassis, and the Hendrick program and what we were doing here. Needing somebody that knew what was going on with this side of the organization, more so than just a crew chief type or anything. (Indiscernible).
Q. Kind of following up on that. What can you take away from your time at Hendrick in terms of the championships won with them and what Tony's experience has been winning the two to apply to this weekend?
DARIAN GRUBB: I think a lot of it is just like I said before, just letting the people around you do the job that they know how to do and making sure that everybody does pull their weight and everything else should come into play. You shouldn't have to change your game plan to go out there and win a championship. Because if you have set your team up properly before that, that's what puts you in contention. The more you have to change things to try to win it, that's when you dig yourself a little bit of a hole. Hopefully we've got a championship winning team.
I know I feel like we have that. All the guys surrounding the 14 team, we're really looking forward to going out there and trying to get the job done.
Q. Tony has said over the past few weeks post race that he's not really feeling pressure right now. You guys have nothing to lose. I know you said that yourself during the course of this teleconference. Do you feel that way? Do you not feel pressure on this? Do you not feel like you guys have something to lose?
DARIAN GRUBB: Not at all. We can't finish worse than second. It's the best we've ever run in the three years we built Stewart-Haas Racing into being a championship contender. Now it's about going out there and getting the job done this week. We've got one person that we really have to beat to win the championship. Other than that, we're competing against the other 42 competitors like we always do. We're trying to go out there and win the race, and that controls our own destiny.
There is really no pressure. We feel like we've already accomplished what we need to accomplish, but bringing the trophy home would definitely put the icing on the cake.
Q. When you talk about that one person you have to beat. How focused are you on the 99? Will you be very aware of what they're doing on pit stops and all of those other things? Or do you have to balance that with making sure you guys run your own race?
DARIAN GRUBB: We're going to concentrate on running our own race. We're going to pay attention to what they're doing, and they're going to be paying attention to us. The more you try to play the game and outrun that guy when ten other guys are going to sneak by you and pull off a Top 10, you'll be sitting back there trying to figure out how many positions do I need to be in front of him.
We want to go for the win. That is our goal from the time we unload. It doesn't matter what anybody else does at that point.
THE MODERATOR: Darian, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it, and best of luck this weekend in Miami.
DARIAN GRUBB: Thank you very much.