For a free agent crew chief, there aren't better job search conditions than the ones Darian Grubb faced after the 2011 season. Last year, amid the confetti and champagne spray of his driver's championship celebration, Grubb announced he was leaving Stewart-Haas Racing immediately.
Inevitably, Grubb received offers from several teams for a range of roles not limited to calling races from the pit box. One of those came from Joe Gibbs Racing, where crew chief Mike Ford was separating from Denny Hamlin's No. 11 team after a second-consecutive run in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Hamlin, however, wasn't convinced Grubb - with a championship freshly added to his résumé' - was the best candidate for the job.
"I was a little more apprehensive that he did just win the championship. I knew that he was mulling offers of not being a crew chief anymore," Hamlin said Tuesday. "So that scared me a little bit that, 'Hey, what's his drive to go out here and win a championship with me?' He's just won the championship. He's got nothing to prove."
And so over lunch in December, Hamlin grilled Grubb over his motivation. Grubb still had plenty left.
"He assured me that he felt like I would give him his best chance at winning a championship, and he had something to prove," Hamlin said. "He wanted to win another championship. He just didn't want to go out the way things ended."
Days later, Grubb was Hamlin's second-ever Sprint Cup crew chief. And now, nine months later, Grubb's experience has already paid off for Hamlin in the form of a championship-rejuvenating win at New Hampshire Sunday. Hamlin dominated the event, leading nearly two-thirds of it, and won going away. The No. 11 is now seven points back of his 2010 championship foil Jimmie Johnson thanks to the sixth win Grubb has managed in the last 12 Chase races.
It was a nice comeback from a disappointment at Chicago for Hamlin when the team failed to get enough fuel in the car during the final pit stop. Hamlin ran out of gas in the final laps and finished 16th after running in the top-10 for much of the final stint. After the race, the team had a meeting where Hamlin's longtime fuel man admitted a mistake.
It was an example of blatant openness among the team, and quite possibly due to a culture Grubb has instilled within Hamlin's team.
"I have never seen my crew guys, whether it be pit crew or the guys that travel on the road, just be so excited to go to the racetrack every weekend," Hamlin said. "Usually everyone dreads it because they are away from their family; it's the time of the season where everyone is starting to get agitated … my guys right now are just on cloud nine and love being around myself and Darian and I think it's helped our performance."
Thoughts, notes and ramblings from the New Hampshire/Kentucky NASCAR weekend.
NOT: Someone should probably page Roush-Fenway Racing and let them know NASCAR's championship fight is 20 percent finished. Matt Kenseth, good at Chicagoland before he literally lost a shock from his race car, didn't rebound and New Hampshire in a big way and Greg Biffle has been out of sight and out of mind for the championship contenders.
Dover is historically a strong place for the RFR group - they'll really need a strong performance to have any thoughts of putting one or two cars back in contention.
HOT: Denny Hamlin probably deserves more applause for that dominating show Sunday. You don't see that often in NASCAR.
NEUTRAL: Why did Hamlin make a Babe Ruth "called shot" gesture after the race after he explicitly said Friday he wasn't actually predicting a win at New Hampshire? This would've been a "NOT" had Hamlin's victory burnout been anything less than the fantastic show it was.
HOT: Jimmie Johnson, with two runner-up finishes, has the points lead. Will he give it up?
NOT: Why doesn't ESPN at least try to show viewers the debris that lead to caution flags? NASCAR makes it explicitly clear where they believe the obstruction is.
NOT: Sunday's race was the least-viewed NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the year, and down 700,000 viewers from the year before. Ratings from Chicagoland Speedway last week were poor. But, according to the 2013 schedule NASCAR officially released Tuesday, that's not a problem. I'll take their word on that, I guess.
NEUTRAL: Pending the crazy events of Talladega - earlier in the Chase than ever this year - I don't see how any driver that isn't Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Hamlin, Stewart, Kasey Kahne or Clint Bowyer have a realistic chance to climb back in the title race. Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., in seventh, needs to beat Johnson by 26 spots or win some races over the final eight events.
HOT: Paul Wolff earned Brad Keselowski at least three points with a two-tire pit stop late in Sunday's race. It was smart strategy - will it pay off down the stretch?
NOT: At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Kyle Busch called the FBI to investigate why he's had so many engine issues this season.
HOT: Brian Vickers, ninth after fading late Sunday, has four top-10 finishes in seven part-time starts this year. I'd expect he's angling to take on a full-time ride with the No. 55 in 2014. That's at least what I would go for. There are no other teams with openings as good as that one could be with the current trajectory of Michael Waltrip Racing.
Geoffrey Miller writes about NASCAR for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and has a self-righteous Twitter account.
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