Hamlin gets crew chief back for start of Chase
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) Denny Hamlin got his crew chief back for the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and he is hopeful Darian Grubb spent his six weeks away building fast race cars.
Grubb was suspended by NASCAR after Hamlin's third-place finish at Indianapolis when NASCAR found issues with several covers in the rear firewall of his driver compartment during post-race inspection. Loose or missing covers could vent the driver cockpit to create more downforce.
Joe Gibbs Racing initially said it would appeal the penalty, which included a $125,000 fine for Grubb, but decided to have him serve the six-race suspension and return in time for the opening round of the Chase on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Grubb on Friday said the failed inspection was over ''a 27-cent part and it came loose. It wasn't torqued correctly.''
''It's not a gray area, it's not anything intentional, no real performance gain there,'' Grubb said. ''Everybody in the garage has those same covers and they came loose a week that they shouldn't have come loose.''
Grubb said he took just two days off during his suspension and worked long hours at the race shop preparing for the 10-race Chase. Hamlin is the ninth seed in the 16-driver field, and he's been vocal that JGR needs to build some ''beast race cars'' to get the organization on the same level with Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske.
He knew Grubb had been putting in time at the race shop that Hamlin hopes pays off big the next 10 weeks.
''He's been working probably more hours since he's been away from the track than he does when he comes on the road,'' Hamlin said. ''We have been preparing for this Chase for a really long time.''
Hamlin spent the last six weeks working with team engineer Mike Wheeler, who guided Hamlin to three top-10 finishes. Hamlin was also racing for the lead at Bristol when he was wrecked by Kevin Harvick.
He praised the communication he had with Wheeler, and thought the return of Grubb would bolster the No. 11 team. Grubb won the Chase in 2011 with Tony Stewart.
''My communication with Wheels over the last six weeks has been really good and I think he did an amazing job, and we really didn't miss a beat if you look at our performance,'' Hamlin said. ''He's still going to be that voice that's there. It's not like Wheels is going anywhere. He's still going to be part of our race team and (we) just got that extra championship crew chief now that we're adding to the mix.''
But Grubb, who said he felt that not being in the garage on race weekend left him a little disconnected, thinks there's been a drop-off because he wasn't able to communicate directly with Hamlin during the race weekend.
''We're definitely behind,'' Grubb said. ''I feel like we're working really hard on trying to make a lot of things better. I was able to put a little bit more effort into some of those things, maybe. But not being at the racetrack and not working with the race team, especially working with Denny, is something I feel like I lost a lot of ground on. We're six weeks behind.''