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Darian Grubb has Tony Stewart within sight of the NASCAR championship...but 2012? Grubb won't say where he might be

  Homestead-Miami, and the end of the NASCAR season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Questions, questions, and a bunch of unfinished business, and a lot of jobs on the line.
   That's the menu here this week – Ford Championship Week, to be precise, and for the first time in quite a while, since Kurt Busch's title run for Jack Roush in 2004, this week may actually live up to that billing.
   The big one, of course, is will Carl Edwards or Tony Stewart win the NASCAR championship.

This is the 10th and final race of the Sprint Cup playoffs, and the chase is down to those two.
   Must-see-TV? Well, NASCAR's Game Seven is shaping up as one of the closing finishes ever.
   But the hottest crew chief in the sport, Darian Grubb – who has led Stewart to four playoff victories over the past two months – may be down to his final hours with the team that he may well lead to the Sprint Cup championship.
   With two wins and a third in their last three starts, Grubb and Stewart are just three points down to points leader Edwards in the two-man Chevy-Ford duel for the title.
   However Grubb – and remember how he won two races, including the Daytona 500, with Jimmie Johnson in a four-week span when he came from obscurity to fill in for crew chief Chad Knaus in 2006 – may not be back with Stewart next season.
   Or at least he's leaving that question unanswered for the moment: "We'll leave that to after Sunday and figure out what's going to happen there.  Our goal is to win the championship and we'll decide everything else after that."
   There have been reports since August that all was not well in the Stewart-Grubb game, after the team struggled through much of the first half of the season.
   There have been reports that Steve Addington might be leaving the Roger Penske camp, and Kurt Busch, to join Stewart's soon-to-be three-car operation in some respect.
   And there have been reports that Greg Zipadelli, the veteran crew chief who led Stewart to championships in 2002 and 2005, could be lured to the Stewart camp (though it's appearing that Joe Gibbs, Zipadelli's current boss, may not be ready to give him up, particularly considering all the problems in Gibbs' Toyota camp at the moment).

    Darian Grubb: Tony Stewart's crew chief, and on the verge of the NASCAR championship. But his plans for next season? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   That's not the only question facing the team that could soon be NASCAR's newest champion. Stewart has been without a competition direction since June, and now he's expanding to three teams, with rookie Danica Patrick coming onboard in 2012.
   But Grubb says those are questions that can wait till Monday.
   At the moment he's got a championship to try to win.
   And Jimmie Johnson's five-year winning streak may be history, but team owner Rick Hendrick still has a shot at a piece of this thing, since his operation provide engines and engineering support for Stewart and Grubb.
   Edwards, who won here last year, should have a bit of an edge here. But Grubb and Stewart aren't conceding a thing.
   "We did run good last year….(and) that is a very similar setup to what we've run good at with on the 1-1/2-miles this year," Grubb says. "We've hit on that setup last year.
   "It worked out this year at Vegas (where Stewart dominated, though Edwards won), and all the tracks that are fairly similar (like Atlanta), where we feel we can take a lot of that data over to Homestead.
   "We can't finish worse than second -- It's the best we've run in the three years we built Stewart-Haas Racing into being a championship contender.
    "Now it's about going out there and getting the job done. We've got one person to beat to win the championship."
    Stewart hasn't had many crew chiefs over his NASCAR career. When he was looking for a new guy to help him launch his own team, Grubb was something of a natural: "They were looking more for the comfort level of the Hendrick chassis, and the Hendrick program and what we were doing," Grubb said. "They needed somebody that knew what was going on with this side of the organization…more so than just a crew chief."
    Now, with 10 wins together, well, is this the end of the line?
    How have Grubb and Stewart been getting along this year? A bit ragged, it would seem, up till that Labor Day weekend turnaround.
   "I would say it's good," Grubb says. "We've gotten to be pretty good friends on and off the track.  We've spent a lot of time together.  We know each other a little better than we should at times. 
    "We eat, sleep, and live together pretty much half the time at the track.
    "So it's a tough dynamic -- kind of a love-hate brother relationship at times.
    "But it's the best of times when you can go out there and make things work and take those pictures with the trophy."
    Stewart, grumpy much of the season, has changed tone lately. And he's been quick to praise Grubb's pit box calls.
    "Those calls make the difference now whether you win or finish 10th," Grubb says. "That seems to pay off at times… but then other weeks it doesn't.
    "The first Phoenix race, I came in for a two-tire call and everybody else did four.  So we had a four-second lead with 27 laps to go…and then the caution came out, and that forced us back in, and the guys with four tires ran all over us, and we finished seventh. 
    "But we were going to walk away with the race on that one if things had played our way.
    "You have that every week, those scenarios where you have to play the game. 
    "Like Sunday at Phoenix (where Stewart dominated until late); I waited for everybody else to pit and made a decision to do fuel only so we could make up time on the track."
    And it didn't quite work out. Kasey Kahne won.


 Homestead-Miami Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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