Darian Grubb is a Sprint Cup championship crew chief, winning the 2011 title with Tony Stewart. He was starting his second season as the head wrench for Denny Hamlin when Hamlin was injured at California a couple of weeks ago; now, he finds himself calling the shots for multiple drivers filling the seat in his car until they return. With the rules as they are, Grubb’s team will still have a chance to make the Chase if they can stay on top of the car and then win a couple of races with Hamlin in the seat.
When Frontstretch caught up with Grubb this week, he told us about running Martinsville with Mark Martin and what the FedEx team faces as they head to Texas this week. Grubb covers things from tires to cool temperatures and the difference between having his primary driver in the seat behind him at the track and a sub.
Mike Neff: Let’s take a look back at Martinsville, where you scored a top-10 finish. How did your day go and did things work out the way you thought they would with Mark Martin in the car?
Darian Grubb: It was what we expected Mark Martin could do. We feel bad for holding him back with some of the mistakes we had there for the weekend. We missed our setup a little bit and made him wheel hop during qualifying so we started 35th. Mark was really beating himself up over that but it was more of our fault than anything. So we got into the race and we were having a really good race, Mark was doing a really good job and we were making our way forward and got into the top 15. Denny and I talked and decided it was a good time to learn and try two tires to jump some track position and see what happened. The tire wear was getting better at that point but we put him back in the pack because that call didn’t work out; then, we had a problem in the pits and then it was just Mark fighting his way back and we ended up with a good, solid day and ended up in the top 10. Our goal for the weekend was to not have any issues and have a top-10 finish. Luckily we were able to have that finish even though we had issues on the way through. Mark is just an awesome guy with great character. Everything about him is truly professional and we really enjoyed having him in the car and helping us out with the FedEx Toyota.
Neff: This week in Thinkin’ Out Loud I poked some fun at Denny for giving Mark advice and several fans bit my head off, saying that you set the car up to Denny’s preference and expected Mark to drive it so that’s why Denny was trying to help. When you set up the car, did you set it up to Mark’s wishes or did you set it up to what you know and then try and tweak it?
Grubb: We really did start with what Denny would have wanted to run there and, as always, we tweaked on it in practice. We went away from it and kind of went towards what Mark was feeling and by the end of Happy Hour we were almost all of the way back to what Denny likes to race. We had a few differences but, in hindsight, we wish we would have raced exactly what Denny would have raced because we felt like we helped ourselves a little in practice but that definitely hurt when we got out on the track and the conditions had changed. I think we had a good plan and we stuck pretty close to it and the results showed it with Mark being able to drive up through there and finish in the top 10.
Neff: One last question on Martinsville before we move onto Texas. In the past, by lap 250 or 300, there would be a very distinct, dark black line on the concrete and you’d have to almost drive around it. This time, it didn’t seem like the rubber held onto the track as much as it used to, although the cars seemed to act like it rubbered in. Was that your experience that the rubber didn’t sit on top quite as much as it used to?
Grubb: It really didn’t. There was one spot around lap 300 – 350 where a little bit stuck down but we had a caution right after that, the caution flag came out and it pulled up and we never saw it again. I think that was the longest run we had, about 80 or 90 laps. That little bit laid down but the track still seemed to tighten up even though the rubber didn’t seem to stay down. The tire that Goodyear brought to the track had a heavy penalty for heavy wear and pushing the laps too far. You had to manage your car to keep the tires on it and the handling good. I think it was a good compromise for what we had for excessive tire wear, along with blow outs and other things they’ve had in the past. I think it was a good show and drivers had to manage it through driving style all weekend.
Neff: Headed to Texas, we’ll probably see the cars the fastest they will run all year. What challenges does that throw at you knowing you’ll have really high grip and really high speed?
Grubb: We’re really looking forward to getting down there and trying to figure it out. Luckily, we get a little test time on Thursday to gather some data and see where we feel like our deficiencies exist. So far, everything has been really solid at the intermediate tracks. Las Vegas threw us for a little loop, we got really loose in the race. California seemed to be a little more like we had “appreciation” for what we needed. Hopefully, we’ll keep seeing that fine-tuning and the pack get closer and closer to what everyone needs to perform. We are looking forward to being super fast right off the bat. That place is really quick, especially going into the night race. The track is getting more bumps in the corners and the straight – there’s multiple grooves where you can race. Should be a lot of fun.
Neff: We’ve got six races under our belt with this new car. You had the challenge of cooling it in the tight confines at Martinsville. What have you learned from a cooling perspective and how much of that can you use with the cooler night air in Texas?
Grubb: It is very similar to what we had in the old car with the engine package and the cooling ducts allowed. We have more area we can use in the front for cooling but we haven’t had to use that yet. We’ve been pretty consistent with our temps and everything we need to control. I’m sure you’ll see the cooler night air in Texas; we’ll see what Mother Nature holds. Some of the races we’ve run so far have been pretty chilly so I think we’ll be ready to go but, we’re still chasing aero for that speed.
Neff: California was a fantastic race. I get the feeling that Texas is going to offer some similar conditions. With six races in the books, did you learn some things from Vegas and California that you can apply to Texas this weekend?
Grubb: I think so. We’re starting to learn more about the aero package this car provides. The setups and the new rear cambers that we’re allowed, along with how the grip transitions with tire wear. I feel very track and tire dependent on what we deal with going through a run in the races. Goodyear has made a change to the right-side tire they used to run in the trucks in the past. They’ve had some good shows there in the past and we hope that will continue. Obviously, with us, we hope we figure that out. We’ve got a new driver going there with us that we have to try and figure out while we’re going along and hopefully the new tire won’t be too steep to learn about the car and he’ll be able to pick his feet up and go.
Neff: Most of the races this year, at least from a fan perspective, have seemed to show a trend to where the tires were beginning to wear and you are getting a benefit from changing tires. Does it seem that way from on top of the pit box too?
Grubb: Yes, it does. Goodyear is doing a lot better job of matching the tires to the conditions and the track. And, given the performance falloff, it gives us a good tool to use during the race. Is the driver going to try and manage the tires and keep them on longer or really push it and know they are going to fall off? You are seeing a lot of different strategies, track position and pit stops and all of those things are playing a huge role in what we do. Everything is coming into play again and Goodyear is doing a really good job of matching those circumstances up. They’re doing a lot of testing and making things a lot better.
Neff: You have Brian Vickers in the car this week. He’s around the shops, at least. How much are you leaning on his Nationwide team for the setups for Texas or are you still going to set up for Denny?
Grubb: It is a little bit of both. We have kind of tweaked their intermediate setup for what we run with Denny. We did check out the Nationwide car as far as brakes and steering components and stuff like that, and other things. We have to deal with the consistency of running both cars in the same weekend. He has to go back and forth to get the practice in for both cars along with qualifying and racing. We want to make sure we give him a consistent feel. We’ve got some things that we’ve made some tweaks on. Nothing really major.
Neff: How crazy was Denny sitting on the box during a Cup race?
Grubb: He noticed how things happen on a regular basis. He really wasn’t going crazy. He was kicking back and taking it all in. He noticed a lot more things and understands a lot more about what we deal with, as trying to call the race and how quickly things happen, how important it is for the driver to get the information to the crew chief. Not to mention, it is very important when the race goes under caution because that car is coming around the corner and you have to make a call. It was important for him to see that and to realize you can’t just sit and think for a while and make the best decision. Sometimes, you have to fly by the seat of your pants and get things done. I think he learned a lot from that and I hope he keeps learning from that. He’s given us good feedback too on things he sees that we think can make us stronger by filling some of these gaps in what we have.
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