November 20, 2011
On Sunday, crew chief Darian Grubb climbed the summit of the highest mountain of his profession, using daring, gutsy strategy to guide driver Tony Stewart to a win and a Sprint Cup championship.
As of Monday, it appears he's out of a job.
One of the most fascinating subplots of the immediate postrace celebration was the fact that Grubb has done what no other crew chief has managed in the last half-decade, and yet he's still apparently going to be looking for work.
Certainly, Grubb's performance in the early part of the year could have justified a firing. Stewart limped into the Chase, appearing to have little to compete with the workhorse programs of Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.
Still, Stewart won the first two races of the Chase, and suddenly the ship started turning in the right direction. But then Stewart slid back in the pack, and the Stewart-Haas braintrust made the decision: Grubb was gone as of the end of the season. The team notified him of his impending unemployment as of the Charlotte race in October.
But to hear Grubb tell it, that decision was made in haste, without giving him time to see the season through. In an awkward postrace interview, Grubb said he was "pleading" to be given the rest of the season. He added that he finds this entire decision "baffling." He's not certain whether a Cup win will help his chances, and he's not certain if, even if he were offered his job back, he'd take it.
[Related: Legend of Tony Stewart cemented in full]
Stewart studiously avoided answering any question relating to Grubb's future. He initially blew off the question with a joke: "In the immediate future, I'm going to get him drunk." But then he lapsed into the usual bureaucratic ownerspeak, saying that there were many options to consider in any offseason. But he also avoided giving Grubb anything resembling a vote of confidence.
Perhaps Stewart and Grubb will meet and Grubb will re-up with the man whom he crewed to a championship. And perhaps Stewart will decide to look in a different direction with the expectation that his next championship won't be so close. Either way, Grubb won't be out of work for long. There aren't many crew chiefs working these days with a Cup to their credit.
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