Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Yes, that's a nice smile Darian Grubb is wearing...but no gloating

  Yes, that's Darian Grubb's car at the head of the pack at Phoenix. With Denny Hamlin at the wheel (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


    And if you're keeping score, it's Darian Grubb 1, Tony Stewart 0. 
    Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But Grubb, the man who led Stewart to last season's NASCAR championship, only to get dumped, scored his first win of the year with his new team, the Denny Hamlin-Joe Gibbs Toyota guys.

    Hamlin thus wins even before teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
    And Hamlin is not a fast starter each season, which makes Sunday's win in the Phoenix 500K  even more ominous.
    Grubb, of course, is not one to boast. He is classic Rick Hendrick class, cool and non-confrontational
    But, hey, this win is an in-your-face victory, to be sure.
    And Hamlin, himself on the comeback trail after a very disappointing 2011, was all but gloating.
   "It's still a learning process between me and Darian," Hamlin says. "The communication has still got a long way to go.
   "But to have success this early just tells me once we get things down pat, it's going to be pretty good."
    Gibbs himself -- remember, the last time here, last fall, he was dealing with the fallout from Busch's blowup at Texas, and resulting suspension -- was in a great mood.
    "We had a tough, long, hard year last year, and going through all that, and this year to come out of the box the way we have has just been awesome," the former NFL star coach said.
    "I've got a great feeling about this year."
    Last season, though Busch had a lot of wins, led a lot of laps, was pretty much a bust down the stretch for Gibbs. So this season there's a lot on the line...particularly in the engine department.
    Grubb himself downplayed the redemption aspect of the win: "I guess you could say it is a little vindication...but I really don't think that way. 
    "I try to think the high-road all the time."
   After all, there is a downside to this situation -- former crew chief Mike Ford, the man who built this powerhouse operation for Hamlin and Gibbs, only to lose momentum, and his job.
    "I came into a very good situation: Mike Ford built one heck of a team here," Grubb said
    Nevertheless, chemistry is such a big deal in this sport, and Gibbs knows that, saying Grubb "has done a great job getting those guys all together. He's done a great job in a short period of time."
    Grubb isn't the only new crew chief in Gibbs' three-team operation. And melding the three -- Dave Rogers, Jason Ratcliffe and Grubb -- probably won't be that easy.
    In fact when Sunday's 312-mile took green "I had no idea we were going to fire off like we did," Hamlin said.
    After that crushing afternoon at Phoenix Nov. 14, 2010, with the championship on the line, even this win may not erase all that.
    "It's a bittersweet track," Hamlin says.
     "Before that moment, I had a lot of success at this track, ran very competitive."
     So what to make of this win?
     Put it in perspective: "Last year we just never got going," Hamlin says. "Maybe there was a hangover effect the first half of the season...but it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last 10 races.  We just didn't have it all together."
      Hamlin says Sunday's win "puts 2011 to rest.  That year is done. 
    "It's a year I'd just as soon forget about
     "Now we're focused on winning a championship."
    But the Las Vegas track, a high-speed, 1-1/2-mile track, is quite different from Daytona and Phoenix.
    Hamlin has won on such mid-sized tracks, Texas, Homestead and Darlington. And last spring he finished seventh at Vegas.
    At this point recall just what did happen a year ago at the Nevada track -- Stewart, in Grubb's car, dominated.
    Grubb insists he doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself: "I honestly feel it's going to be, realistically, two months before we're totally clicking."

    In other NASCAR news,
    -- On the safety front, a week after the bizarre, fiery Juan Pablo Montoya collision with a jet dryer at Daytona, NASCAR has announced new safety rules.
   A pace car, with flashing lights on the roof, will follow the jet dryers around the track. And the men driving the jet dryers will now be wearing fire suits and helmets.


    Now that's some nice weather at Phoenix (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com