Good Grubb

Jonathan Baum
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – Darian Grubb doesn't know whether or not he'd now be recognized in the grocery store, as he's not sure he's even had time to go food shopping in recent weeks.

It's easy to understand why.

Grubb has been a bit busier since being thrust into the NASCAR spotlight at Daytona after No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus was caught cheating and subsequently suspended for four weeks.

Grubb, the team's lead engineer, took over as interim crew chief and has made quite a splash.

Just how big a splash? He and Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 and then finished second at California.

Grubb did it again on Sunday, leading Johnson to victory in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas.

Not a bad start, especially for a guy with that "interim" tag attached to his title. Even those with an insider's view of how the team works are surprised by its blazing start.

"I don't know if I've ever seen that before," said Johnson's teammate and team co-owner Jeff Gordon. "It is pretty incredible. I think it shows how much character that team has, that Jimmie has and how much drive they have as well.

"Chad built a great race team there … and those guys are just taking it and running with it and trying to make a positive out of a negative."

When Knaus was suspended, Johnson knew Grubb was the perfect choice to take his place, even though there were other crew chiefs in the Hendrick Motorsports organization that could have come over and led the No. 48 team.

Grubb's familiarity with the team might have been the deciding factor.

"I didn't want to start that communication process over again [with a different crew chief]," Johnson said. "Darian has been there. He's extremely talented and deserving of the chance."

Grubb, 30, downplays his own impact on Johnson's success, instead crediting the team and organization as a whole and saying that he doesn't even think his abilities as a crew chief are necessary that impressive. That's not all that evident, however, based on the results the team has achieved this year – though the fact that almost all pit stops in the first three races have been under caution rather than green flag conditions likely takes some focus off the race strategy component of crew chief responsibilities.

Instead, the team has had to focus more on setups and adjustments, which clearly plays to a lead engineer's strengths. It also helps that Grubb has had a car that is running near the front of the pack much of the time.

With three impressive performances in three races, Johnson and Grubb were pressed after Sunday's win to explain what disadvantage their team really was faced with. After all, two wins and a runner-up isn't what one might expect from a group supposedly struggling without its leader.

And indeed Grubb admitted that in one sense, the team is benefiting from Knaus' attention being focused elsewhere.

"I guess I have to thank NASCAR for this," Grubb said. "Chad's at home seven days a week working on these cars. It's pretty easy to unload fast when you've got a mind like that back at the fab shop working on it."

But Johnson insists that the process is different. In the past, Knaus would, with input, make the calls. Now it's more of a collaboration, according to Johnson, with Grubb and Johnson taking an "all right, let's try this and see if it works" approach.

Johnson even said earlier in the weekend that he would rather have been hit with a 25-point penalty than have to race without his crew chief for a few weeks.

Grubb perhaps is making Johnson rethink that stance, and both were peppered with questions – some in jest, some serious – about whether Knaus should come back at all or perhaps shift into a crew chief-like role at the shop while continuing to allow Grubb to run the show at the track.

But despite the success and the suggested career paths, Grubb – who clearly is enjoying the ride – isn't necessarily eager to give up his day job.

At least not right now, and perhaps not ever.

"There's nothing better than being up there and winning races and using Jimmie as a tool to win races for me and our team," Grubb said. "It's not me doing this. It is our team."

So why not look for a full-time crew chief gig?

The commitment.

Grubb is a guy who likes to go fishing or work out in the yard. He fixes up old cars and enjoys his time at home.

That part of his life he is not willing to give up.

"You can't do [those things] and be a crew chief these days," he said. "You have to be in race car mode 24/7."

Grubb should have more time for that yard work soon enough. Knaus will return to action for the Bristol race in two weeks, and Grubb will return to his spot alongside Knaus on the pit box – and beneath him on the depth chart.

But the team dynamic won't be quite the same as it was before Knaus' suspension, not with what Grubb, Johnson and the rest of the team have done thus far this season.

Grubb doesn't see himself trying to challenge Knaus' decisions on the strength of his recent success, but he does agree that interactions between the two and the rest of the team will be different.

"I think it's definitely going to change because everybody on the team just feels strongly now," Grubb said. "They have the confidence in their abilities and their position, so Chad can feed off of that. He can actually use that input to make his decisions better."

But they will be Knaus' decisions to make.

"He can still make all the calls," Grubb said. "[There won't be a time] where I say, 'that's the wrong decision.' I may argue with him on a call, but it's going to be something we're doing together. He'll argue with me all the time as well."

"That's not new," Johnson interjected, laughing.

And the more opinions the better, according to Grubb.

"We have to have everybody's insight on what they think should be done because if you don't, you never progress," he said. "You always have to learn and use everybody you have."

Throughout the suspension, Grubb still has sought Knaus' input to see if the exiled crew chief agreed with the calls and changes Grubb and Co. have made. And Grubb is looking forward to once again benefiting from Knaus' expertise at the track first hand.

"Chad's leadership is second to none," Grubb said. "We really miss that. … Next week we go to Atlanta, and that's hopefully my last deal being a crew chief. I'm not sure I ever desire to be a crew chief. But then again, I'm having fun now and I'm learning.

"Come Bristol, I'm going to be very glad to have Chad up there for 500 laps at Bristol. I'll elbow him and say, 'I think you should have done that.' … I'm sure he'll throw an elbow back."

As for stepping into the spotlight, and then stepping back out once Knaus returns?

"There's no fame or anything in this," Grubb said. "We're here to race."

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