Darian Grubb hopeful that 2011 title experience can help Hamlin, 11 team at Homestead

Leave a comment

Out of the four crew chiefs involved in this Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Darian Grubb, CC for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team of Denny Hamlin, is the only one that has captured a title.

Even though he was on his way out as CC for Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing, Grubb was still able to guide “Smoke” to his third Cup championship at the end of the 2011 season.

He believes there isn’t a comparison to be made between that situation and the one that he and Hamlin are in now at JGR. However, he’s hopeful that the past experience can give him an added edge as they seek to out-hustle Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman in South Florida.

“I feel like being in that position there running for the championship and coming in as the underdog and having to go out and win the race and perform to top level and being able to do that – even through adversity in 2011 – it at least gives all my guys the confidence that they know that we can at least make it through that,” he explained during today’s NASCAR teleconference.

“No matter what the race throws at us, we should be able to adapt and make sure we can do what we have to do to perform.”

Also adding confidence to Grubb and the 11 team are the facts that Hamlin’s a two-time winner at Homestead and the most recent of those victories came just last fall.

“The fact that we were able to win there last year means that we know how to run up front, and the car was fast, and the team works really well together,” he said. “It’s still the same group of guys that are doing all that work. Going down there, we have a lot of confidence, and I think Denny has won that race twice, I’ve won that race twice as a crew chief, and I’ve won a championship down there in similar circumstances.

“The pressure shouldn’t make us crack, whereas some of the other guys who don’t have that experience may.”

In Grubb’s mind, the biggest key to this week is to keep things business as usual. It doesn’t seem possible considering the prize and the pressure that lies ahead, but to Grubb, trying to contemplate the amount of scenarios that could play out in the Championship Race is counter-productive.

“You can over-prepare and take your eye off of actually preparing for the race at hand,” he said. “It’s going to change multiple times through the race. We’re racing three other individuals, not anybody else as of right now.

“Of course, we want to go win and sit on a pole and be the fastest car all weekend because that makes our life easy, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim with the way the competition level has been lately. So now we just know we have to out-perform those other three competitors when the checkered flag falls. That’s all that matters.”

In addition to talking Homestead, Grubb indicated that he would stay at JGR next season, when the team expands to four cars with the addition of Carl Edwards.

Joe Gibbs said earlier this season that crew chief changes were likely to occur going into 2015. But though his current partnership with Hamlin may come to a close, Grubb was confident enough to say he’d be back.

“We’re still working towards winning a championship, and I’m going to be here next year doing the same thing,” he said. “We have had some talks internally about what next year’s plans are, but there’s nothing that’s ready to be announced and/or we’re not working towards that for next year, either.

“I’m sure winning a championship with the team and stuff might have some bearing on some of those discussions and things as well. We’re going to wait until Monday after Homestead to even think about that stuff.”

And what if Grubb finds himself paired up with a new driver next season?

“To me, that doesn’t matter,” he replied. “I’m still going to do the same effort and the same work that I do every week regardless of who I’m working for.”

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
Leave a comment

SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.