Hamlin win vindicates crew chief

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:30 PM ET

TORONTO - Just two races into the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup racing season and Darian Grubb has already made a believer out of Denny Hamlin.

You remember Grubb. He was the crew chief for Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet that won five of the final 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races last season that earned Stewart his third championship.

Grubb is also the crew chief that Stewart fired after the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Now Grubb is on the pit box for Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and all he did Sunday was help win the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

And we all know the story of Hamlin, who came oh so close to winning it all in 2010 before crumbling in the final two races with Mike Ford as his crew chief.

Stewart, meanwhile, finished two laps down at PIR after experiencing ignition woes.

Hamlin may owe Stewart a debt of gratitude for making Grubb available. But even Hamlin didn’t think the pair would come together this quickly.

“I honestly felt like it was going to be realistically two months before we’re totally clicking and knowing exactly what each other is saying and talking about,” he said. “So to have success early tells me that we’ve obviously got a good pairing here.”

Hamlin said that to get such a great start — he finished fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500 — shows the move to sign Grub was the right one by Coach Joe Gibbs.

“We’ve never been in this position this early in the season,” he said. “We’ve always struggled. We’ve always taken our time — five or six races in — before we hit our stride. He (Grubb) made me a winner today.”

There was a lot at stake for the whole No. 11 team. After his 2010 season, Hamlin and Ford appeared to be on different pages in 2011, with Hamlin falling to ninth place with just one Cup win.

Now he is on a definite rebound.

“It means so much for this whole team to bounce back the way we have,” Hamlin said. “We knew we were going to have a rebound year and I told everyone we were.

“You got to prove it; you got to go out and win these races. It’s a great step in the right direction for our race team.”

It would be easy for Grubb to crow that his early season success with Hamlin should send a message to Stewart that the No. 14 team made a mistake in letting him go.

But that is not the way he operates.

“I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don’t think that way,” Grubb said after the win at PIR. “I try to just think the high road all the time. I feel like I came into a very good situation.”

FINISH LINES

The new Chevrolet IZOD IndyCar engines jumped out in front of the competition at the first day of testing at Sebring this week. Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fastest lap on the first day of testing with all three engine manufacturers (Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus) on the track at the same time. Hunter-Reay’s lap of 52.5826 seconds around the 10-turn, 1.67-mile short course in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Chevrolet was more than 0.12 seconds better than Helio Castroneves’ best lap in the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet ... It looks like it could be the end of the line for veteran NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Kenny Wallace. He was informed after Phoenix that he has only eight more races guaranteed with Robby Benton Racing ... Italian Luca Filippi has agreed to a deal to move to the IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and will make his debut at the Indianapolis 500. The 26-year-old Filippi spent last season in GP2 and the Auto GP series in Europe ... The late Dan Wheldon will be honoured by Indianapolis Motor Speedway by having his likeness on the tickets for the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Wheldon, a two-time Indy winner, died in a crash at the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October last season.

dean.mcnulty@susnmedia.ca


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