|Grubb has Hamlin peaking at the right time|
It was never more apparent than early in the Bristol race when Stewart was being lapped while Hamlin was fighting for the lead. Stewart eventually fought his back and was competitive before being knocked out by Matt Kenseth, but he was never really a threat to win the race. His two-handed helmet toss at Kenseth probably had as much to do with the frustration he was feeling about his car, as it did with his frustration with Kenseth.
A year ago Stewart was openly complaining about his race car and soon announced that crew chief Darian Grubb wouldn’t be returning in 2012. Of course Stewart and Grubb went on to win the NASCAR championship, Grubb then moving on to Joe Gibbs Racing, taking over as crew chief of Hamlin’s car.
Stewart started this year strong, winning two of the year’s first five races. But he’s won only once since, dropping to 10th in the point standings after Bristol. He last three finishes are 27, 32 and 19. He’s in no danger of missing The Chase thanks to his three wins, but he’s certainly headed in the wrong direction.
Just the opposite is true for Hamlin and Grubb. It’s been an up-and-down season for Hamlin, winning early at Phoenix, again near mid-season at Kansas and posting 12 top fives. It’s also been a steep learning curve at times for Grubb, but he’s confident the team is peaking for The Chase.
“Every week we felt like we had a good car, but circumstances took us out of that, or engine failure, mechanical failure or something like that going on in the background,” Grubb said. “We had fast race cars and we are doing the work that it takes to stay up front each week and once you do that, you had the possibility to win. Guys have been doing really a great job behind us in the background with TRD and Joe Gibbs engineering support and doing a great job making sure we don't have those issues again. Hopefully we can keep staying up front.”
A confident Hamlin called Bristol the biggest of his 20 Cup victories. He seems fully recovered from the late-season meltdown in 2010, when the team gave the NASCAR title back to Jimmie Johnson.
“As long as we don't have a failure or we don't get in a wreck, we can win anywhere we go,” Hamlin said. “And that's something that we have not had since 2010, you know, being able to win at every different track at any type of course.
"So, you know, it's a good feeling to know that you can go to a racetrack and win any given week and that gives you a lot of confidence. For me, even though it shows three wins, I feel like we've got five or six.”
As for Grubb, he believes the team is poised for a run at the Sprint Cup title.
“I really think so. You don't want to count your eggs before you put them in the basket type thing, but it's a lot of hard work. All the way since December, when I came in, I've been learning every day. The engineering staff and the mechanics, they teach me lessons and I teach them lessons; and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel on the things we have been working on and you know we are getting stronger as we do it.
“And since then we have been making things better and making the cars better and his feedback has been getting better and better about what we are doing, so hopefully we can take all those things and just keep getting better and not slow down.”