Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Sad, Strange Journey Of Darian Grubb

Darian Grubb has just experienced the greatest week of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.

And the worst.

From the beginning of the 2011 NASCAR Champion’s Week festivities, Grubb made the most of his role as the sport’s most unlikely lame duck, celebrating a championship won alongside Tony Stewart and the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 team while knowing – as everyone now knows – that he will not be allowed to defend that title. Grubb’s wife, Yolanda, called herself and her husband, “the big elephant in the room" everywhere they went in Las Vegas this week, and the analogy could not have been more apt.

Three weeks after the team confirmed Grubb will not return in 2012, fans still struggle to understand the decision. How can a crew chief who masterminded five Chase victories and one of the most improbable championships in NASCAR history end up losing his job?

While the exact dates continue to be debated, the decision boils down to one word.

Timing.

Stewart’s Office Depot/Mobil 1 team started the season strong, claiming the championship point lead after the season’s third event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They failed to maintain that momentum, however, plummeting to 11th just three weeks later, before spending the remainder of the regular season clinging to (or lurking just outside) the Top-10. Winless in the 26-race regular season, they entered the 2011 Chase no better than ninth, and by Stewart’s own admission were simply “taking up space” among the more legitimate championship contenders.

With little reason to expect a change in performance, team management decided that changes needed to be made to the #14 team. “There were a group of us that sat down and had to make a decision,” said Stewart. “The decision was that we needed to go in a different direction. (It) was made before the Chase started, (but) we wanted to finish this thing out strong together. We were going to (stay together) to the end of the year.

"There were a lot of missed opportunities and… variables that we felt needed to be changed," he said. "We decided to make the change, and we stuck with what our decision was."

As the Chase began, Stewart’s season took an unexpected turn for the better. Wins in the first two races of the Chase at Chicagoland and New Hampshire gave the mercurial driver a much-needed burst of adrenaline. That momentum was squandered, however, with finishes of 25th at Dover and 15th in Kansas. As the circuit came home to Charlotte Motor Speedway with the team ninth in points, Stewart made it official, informing Grubb that he would not be retained past the end of the season.

Behind-the-scenes conversations were quickly initiated with Penske Racing crew chief Steve Addington, a proven, championship-caliber pit boss who had cultivated a close relationship with Stewart during the pair’s tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing. Unhappy with his position as crew chief for Kurt Busch’s #22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge, Addington agreed to join SHR in 2012.

Surprising, insiders say Grubb “loosened up” after being informed of his impending release, obsessing less about strategic decisions and becoming more decisive atop the pit box. Coincidentally or not, Stewart got hot again, racking up Top-10 finishes at Charlotte and Talladega, then making back-to-back visits to Victory Lane at Martinsville and Texas.

A third-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway sent Stewart and Grubb to Homestead Miami Speedway three points behind leader Carl Edwards, setting the stage for a winner-take-all race for the title. A classic battle ensued -- arguably the greatest 400 miles in the history of the sport – and when it was over, Tony Stewart was the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion.

Darian Grubb was unemployed.

"I'm very proud of the fact that through it all, (Darian) was able to do a great job and we were able to come out with a championship,” said Stewart afterward. “It's a pretty strong statement.

"(But the) wins and the championship don't change some of the variables we were looking at changing," he added. "There are no major flaws with Darian, but there were variables we felt like we needed to change. And we stuck with that."
For his part, Grubb spoke eloquently, honestly and respectfully throughout Champion’s Week, attempting to explain the wildly conflicting emotions that have dogged his championship celebration, every step of the way.

"It's definitely awkward," he admitted, "but we're trying to put that in the back of our head and go out and enjoy what we've accomplished. I think we're doing a good job of that, but it's tough. To win a championship is one of the most special moments of my life. But knowing that it's coming to an end, ...that's a tough thing for me. I've already got my office cleaned out and we're getting ready to move on."

As the championship-winning crew chief, Grubb was asked to speak at this week's Myers Brothers Award luncheon. Understandably, he struggled to maintain his composure while at the podium, delivering a poignant, heart-felt speech that can be viewed by clicking HERE.

He was not alone.

Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby – nobody’s sissy – and a number of others in the crowd were moved to tears by the words of the lame-duck title winner. And when he concluded, no less than championship runner-up Carl Edwards leapt to his feet in applause, triggering a heartfelt standing ovation for one of the most respected and beloved members of the Sprint Cup Series garage.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:59 PM

    May he find peace and further challenge in his wonderful career.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was nearly as heartbroken for Darian as I was for Carl Edwards.. They are both true champions in my book and 2 of the classiest men in Nascar.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous2:56 PM

    I really hope Darian does not go with Kurt Busch, he deserves so much better than that. Hopefully something good surfaces though. Darian is a bigger person than I am, I would have let Tony get to Homestead and in the last pit done something slight to mess him and and come in second just to let him know that it is more crew than driver talent that win (or lose) championships. But then again I am a Carl fan. LOL

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Tony Stewart will never win another championship. You don't mess with karma like that and get away unscathed. Too bad for Tony, I kind of liked him but it turns out that he will always be "Tony the tool", a jerk that makes hasty decisions and burns bridges.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous4:00 PM

    I just have the sick feeling that Stewart is going to do Grubb out of his bonus.

    Grub showed class. Not so the organization.

    John McManus

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous4:56 PM

    All things happen for a reason. There are only a few people that really know the true story and we are NOT among them. Darian is a good leader that will land on his feet and so will Tony with his new crew chief. Something wasn't "clicking" with the two of them and it isn't up to us to condemn or affirm the decision. Let it go, people!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am not sure that Tony completely agreed with the move, unless he was aware that Steve Addington was available.

    The Smoke/Grubb combo won three points races from Michigan in August of 2009 - Richmond in September 2011 -- not exactly setting the world on fire.

    I feel bad for Grubb, but I think Joe Gibbs will be calling soon to run the place or become a crew chief for either Hamlin or Logano. Zippy will join the SHR group soon after and all will be reset.

    To say that Darian relaxed after he was told he did not have a position makes me wonder why he could not be as decisive when he had a job? In the end, the SHR group decided a change was needed, sans the Chase performance. Both sides will be fine after this.

    Saying Tony is a jerk because he let go Darian after a championship is short-sighted and uninformed. It took one of the greatest runs in history for this conversation to take place. If Tony and Darian run as bad as they did for most of this season, nobody cares about this move.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous12:06 AM

    But Tony really is a jerk, a major league egotistical jerk.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous3:17 PM

    You are right to say Tony is a jerk. I have been a big Tony fan till now and after how he has treated Darian, i hope he never wins a race again and i will no longer support any sponsor that is on his cars.

    ReplyDelete