Mike Neff · Thursday November 7, 2013
It has been a long and winding road for Darian Grubb this season. He started the year off ready to make another run at a Sprint Cup title before his driver suffered a broken back in Fontana, California early in the year. His driver had to sit out four races and, once he came back, was still not back to full song. The hopes for a Wild Card berth in the Championship went up in smoke relatively shortly after his driver returned. The focus changed to trying to win races, but has only recently been anywhere close to realistic again.
While the season of disappointment has to continue for two more weeks, the team’s recent success has Grubb feeling like they will make a run at a win before the season ends. He shared several views with Frontstretch this week including, the track challenges at Phoenix after the reconfiguration, the new tire coming to Phoenix for the left side and dive bombing the apron.
Mike Neff: You had a decent run at Texas, how do you feel about your weekend in the Lone Star State?
Darian Grubb: Overall, we had a pretty good weekend. We had good speed in practice and then in qualifying we didn’t quite get the lap we wanted. In Happy Hour everything on the car was pretty good and then when we went into the race the track changed quite a bit because the wind direction changed and a few other things. It took us a little while to get things dialed in, and then with everyone having right side tire problems we played it conservative for the majority of the race, until the very end, and then Denny was able to march his way up through there. I wish we’d have been able to get a couple of cautions because I feel like we’d have been a lot better than seventh but still proud to be in that top 10 range where we should be.
Neff: Headed to Phoenix, since they did the repave/reconfiguration, have you liked the track better or worse than the old track?
Grubb: I really miss the old track just because the aged asphalt used to really wear tires and things like that. However, the new configuration is pretty cool with that dogleg. It is a unique aspect that we don’t have to deal with at any other track. You go into one and two, which is really short and flat kind of like Richmond, with a little bit of banking. Then you get that big dogleg and head into three and four, which is more like Loudon with pristine asphalt that gives you a lot of grip. Obviously it is a tire management and grip management kind of track. We’re really looking forward to getting the new left sides they’ve come up with for this time and see how all of that stuff works out.
Neff: When you get a new tire like that, does it usually change the setup dramatically or is it dependent on how much of a difference there is between the old tire and the new tire?
Grubb: It is really dependent on the data and how different the tire is. This time it is a pretty small change. We’re hoping it doesn’t change it a whole lot because we were pretty good there in the Spring. We had an engine issue and had to start shotgun on the field and still came back and finished third. I feel like most of the lessons we learned will still apply and hopefully some of the things will make the car even better just because of the difference in the grip level they’re giving us with the new tire.
Neff: You mention that Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of banking. Does the setup you use out there mimic one you’d use for Loudon or something more like Martinsville?
Grubb: It is a combination of all of those. The braking is really tough there because you have such hard, straight-line braking into one but three and four is more like a sweeper like Loudon is. It is a conglomeration of all of those because you have a little bit of mile and a half setup and a little bit of short track setup all rolled into one. It is a very interesting and unique race track and it is also a very short race, so the strategy end of things becomes very important to see how it all plays out.
Neff: Phoenix has the dogleg in the backstretch that you spoke of, which is kind of similar to Pocono’s configuration. Is the compromise that you have to make at Pocono similar to Phoenix? You can’t get both corners perfect so you have to decide on which one you want to be the best.
Grubb: It is a little bit that way. Luckily, the way that dogleg is shaped, it is pretty much a full throttle event, for the drivers, to make it through there. It isn’t that big of a hindrance there but turns one and two vs. turns three and four are drastically different, so you have to give up a little bit on one to make the other one perfect. It is a matter of how you balance those two corners in order to determine your best speed and passing zones.
Neff: Since they did the reconfiguration, the backstretch has that massive paved apron. We’ve seen quite a few guys go down and take advantage of that because obviously cutting off the dogleg makes it a shorter distance, but getting back up into traffic can be rather sketchy. Not sure if Denny likes to take advantage of that but if you plan on it, do you have to tweak the car’s setup to make the transitions off and on the backstretch?
Grubb: The main thing you’re going to do, if you’re trying to take advantage of that, is build in some durability into your race car. It is very hard on equipment to drive down onto that apron and back off of it. It is a car builder’s nightmare when you see how hard they hit the apron, dragging the splitter and the skirts blow off of the car. It is not something that is encouraged but at least you do have that run off zone if there is an accident. I saw several times, I know Denny made up a lot of ground there when there was a wreck, just because you are able to have an alternative route to get around lapped traffic or a crash or something like that when it happens. It is hard on equipment and you try not to use it but if you do, you have to be able to handle those transitions best and the drivers need to hit them as straight as they can to keep from spinning themselves out.
Neff: Talking about compromises and things that you look to do to be as fast as possible. With different flat tracks you focus on different things. At Loudon you focus on rolling through the center where at road courses you focus on the drive off of the corner. Is Phoenix more about getting through the center of the corner or getting off of the corner once you have the car pointed straight?
Grubb: I think a lot of that depends on tire management. If you have a car that is really loose and turns the corner really well, you’re going to hurt your tires on the exit because you’re going to give up some forward drive at the same time. You have to set up for one or the other. If you’re set up to turn the center your driver is going to have to manage the tires on the exit.
Neff: There has been a ton of testing going on in the last couple of months. Since the No. 11 isn’t in the Chase, have you been the Guinea Pigs at these tests to figure out what kind of unconventional things or setups might help Matt and Kyle or have you been on your own agenda?
Grubb: No, not really. We did one short track test outside of our normal testing at a non-NASCAR track to try and help ourselves and those guys. Other than that, when we went to the test at Texas and Homestead and some of the other tracks, we were working on our setup and trying to improve our qualifying and finishes in these races. We still owe a lot to FedEx and Toyota for everything they do for us and trying to keep that car up front. We’re trying to end the season on a high note and get a couple of strong finishes in the top 10 or top 5 and hopefully a win before we finish out these two.
Neff: We’ve got about a week and a half until we’re done with the season. What are you going to be doing in the offseason?
Grubb: When exactly is the offseason going to be (laughs)? We’ve got a lot of equipment to be stripped down and rebuilt. We’ve got personnel reviews and some personnel changes and head counts and all of those things. Plus we’re waiting for the NASCAR rules package and things like that to develop. We’ve got a lot of off-season testing. We’re already building cars for the December test at Charlotte. It never ends. I wish we could say we had an off-season. I guess we get the week of Christmas and that is about it.
Neff: That leads to the last question. With the test at Charlotte and some aero and car changes to try and reduce the dependency on aerodynamics. Have they given you a date to say, “This is when we’ll be final on rules so you know for sure what you can build into your cars for next season.” or is it a fluid situation that continues to change and whenever they finally tell you is when you’re sure what rules will apply?
Grubb: It is pretty fluid, although they do give us guidelines as they go along. We’ve had a couple of dates we’ve been given so far but those seem to keep changing as the package changes as we move along. We’re still waiting for the day to get the final go ahead. Work is continuing on cars. We’ve already build our speedway cars for next season. We’re doing our best to stay in line and hope for the best and hope that the information matches what we’re working on.
Darian Grubb has led his team to a top 25 Owner’s point standing position even though they lost their primary driver for four races this season. Denny Hamlin is sitting 23rd in points without a win to date, but he’s finished in the top 10 in three of the last four races after having not had a top 10 since Pocono in June. The team is setting up for next season very nicely and, assuming Hamlin is over his back issues by next February, should be poised for another run at the Sprint Cup title.
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