Darian Grubb returned to the track on Friday after serving a six-week suspension.
JOLIET, Ill. – For Darian Grubb, it wasn’t much of a vacation.
The crew chief of the No. 11 returned to Chicagoland Speedway on Friday following a six-week suspension for rule infractions at Indianapolis Speedway.
“It was great, but it’s good to be back at the racetrack,” Grubb said. “Just working hard in the shop, working with the guys. Everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing did a great job. The entire FedEx Toyota group did a great job at the race track, too. Still fighting hard every week."
Grubb still contends that the part in question is the same one the team has used throughout the season. The issue with the part coming loose on Denny Hamlin’s Toyota was normal wear and tear over the course of the race.
It’s a 27 cent part that came loose, wasn’t torqued correctly.
“The same parts that have been in there, it was actually new parts that week on our car,” Grubb said. “It was a nut plate that is used as an aircraft fastener and it didn’t have enough torque on it and backed off and came loose. It’s something that we’ve taken out of the cars and have never seen again and never seen before. It’s a 27 cent part that came loose, wasn’t torqued correctly.”'
Grubb said the time away from the track reinforced his belief that JGR has “a great bunch of guys”. He feels that the crew stepped up in his absence.
“Everybody stepped up and did 110 percent of the job to recover from the weakness we had here at the race track,” Grubb said. “I can’t fault them for anything that happened with performances. They had good runs, we had some circumstances outside of our control a couple times, but we were pretty happy with the performance.”
Interim crew chief Mike Wheeler led the team to a third-place finish at Atlanta and top 10s at Pocono and Michigan. Hamlin enters the Chase eighth.
“It’s good to have him back -- obviously he’s been working probably more hours since he’s been away from the track than he does when he comes on the road," Hamlin said. "We have been preparing for this Chase for a really long time.
"At Joe Gibbs Racing, we’ve won all the regular season races before and been the favorites and not won it over these last few years. We have a little bit different approach this year and not that we didn’t want to perform better, but we’re trying to time this thing correctly and hopefully we have."
Hamlin added that Grubb’s time away from the track enabled him to dial in strategy for the Chase. The new format offer different opportunities depending on a team’s specific strengths. Hamlin is hopeful that Grubb's downtime proves beneficial during the play-offs.
I think that he’s been able to analyze everything he could and spend more time doing that stuff.
“He says he’s learned how races play out by watching them and seeing live data -- able to have really papers all around him of strategies and stuff that he can use for races that are coming up,” Hamlin said. “I think that he’s been able to analyze everything he could and spend more time doing that stuff. Hopefully it all pays off with the right call at the end of the race that nobody else thought of.”
Grubb said JGR as a whole have been “working ahead” with an eye on the Chase. But he’s experienced his own separation anxiety from the team and feels the need to play catch up.
We’re six weeks behind now and we have to keep that communication line for this 10 race Chase.
“You take anyone out of their work for six weeks and have them come to work, there’s a few things you have to have them do when they get there Monday morning,” Grubb said. “We’re definitely behind. I feel like we’re working really hard on trying to make a lot of things better, so I was able to put a little more effort into some of those things maybe.
“But, not being at the race track and working with the race team and especially working with Denny is something I feel like I lost a lot of ground on. We’re six weeks behind now and we have to keep that communication line for this 10 race Chase.”
As for Grubbs plans next season, the veteran crew chief said his plans have yet to be determined. With Carl Edwards’ arrival next season, the crew chief line up is still up in the air. Grubbs has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the No. 19 crew chief's role.
“No, not right now,” Grubb said. “We’re still working on a lot of things. We’re concentrating on winning the Chase with Joe Gibbs Racing with the Fed Ex Toyota right now.”