Mike Ford out as Denny Hamlin’s crew chief

There's another team who may be in the market for Darian Grubb's services.

Joe Gibbs Racing has released Mike Ford as crew chief for Denny Hamlin's N0. 11 Toyota. Hamlin, who finished second to Jimmie Johnson in 2010, struggled in 2011. While Hamlin made the Chase, his only win came at June in Michigan. He finished the year 9th in the standings.

"Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing appreciates what Mike has done for our organization over the past six seasons as crew chief with our No. 11 team," team owner Joe Gibbs said in a statement. "We've decided it was best to make a change with the team now to allow Mike the opportunity to pursue other opportunities."

All of Hamlin's 17 career race wins have come with Ford as his crew chief. In April, rumors swirled that Ford would be in the middle of a crew chief swap at Joe Gibbs Racing that never happened.

With Ford's departure from Joe Gibbs Racing, Grubb instantly becomes the most-popular candidate to be Hamlin's new crew chief. Grubb, the former crew chief for 2011 Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, was considered to be the leading candidate for Penske Racing's No. 22 after Steve Addington replaced him at Stewart-Haas and Kurt Busch parted ways with the team.

And now does Ford become a candidate for the Penske opening? With the way that the driver and crew chief wheel has started to spin in these early days of the 2012 silly season has started, it's anyone's guess.

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