Grubb Helps Hamlin Deliver Early Win

Darian Grubb

"I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don’t think that way." (Photo: Getty Images)

Darian Grubb’s departure from Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the 2011 season raised eyebrows and turned heads in the NASCAR community, after he helped guide Tony Stewart to his third Cup Series championship.

Grubb is still grabbing headlines today, but for a different reason. The Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief called the shots during Denny Hamlin’s victory on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway, finding Gatorade Victory Lane after just two races together.

And while Grubb is focused on the 2012 season that’s laid out before him, the final weeks of the 2011 campaign are still in the back of his mind.

“I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don’t think that way,” Grubb said of Sunday’s win, the 18th of Hamlin’s Cup Series career and Grubb’s 15th as a crew chief. “I try to (take) the high road all the time.”

The win for the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota lifted Hamlin into the points lead, by six over second-place Greg Biffle. Stewart, Grubb’s old boss, finished 22nd in Sunday’s race and sits in a four-way tie for 12th in the standings. He trails Hamlin by 37 points after the first two races of the year.

Hamlin minced no words in expressing satisfaction with his new crew chief during Sunday’s post-race press conference.

“He made me a winner today,” Hamlin said of Grubb. “We’ve never been in this position this early in the season. We’ve always struggled, always taken five or six races before we hit our stride.”

Before Sunday, the earliest Hamlin had won a Cup Series race in his previous six full-time seasons was March 29, 2009, at Martinsville Speedway. Grubb is quick to credit his predecessor for laying a strong foundation to which this year’s “11” crew is anchored.

“Mike Ford built one heck of a team here,” Grubb said. “I feel like I came into a very good situation.”

Hamlin led 61 laps of Sunday’s race, including the final 59. Grubb says that track position was critical on PIR’s freshly paved, reconfigured one-mile oval.

“The whole field was pretty much within two-tenths of a second unless you were the leader and got clean air, because of the racetrack and the way the surface is,” Grubb said. “Those were the only guys who could run exceptionally fast laps. As soon as you went back to third or fourth in traffic, you ran lap times everybody around you ran.”

As for the deeper meaning of Sunday’s win, Grubb will leave that to his driver.

“Huge momentum,” Hamlin proclaimed. “So much – I mean, for this whole team to bounce back the way we have. We knew we were going to have a rebound year and I told everyone we were. You’ve got to prove it, go out and win these races. This is a great step in the right direction.”

The No. 11 JGR team dedicated Sunday’s win to mechanic John Furino, who remained at home for the weekend after the passing of his father.

“I’m proud to come in here and lead this bunch of guys,” Grubb said. “Guys like John are a big part of it. We’re a united team. We’re working together that way and we’re just going to keep doing it.”

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