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Pedley: Cup Crew Chiefs Must Have Varied Skills

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 27 2011

Tony Stewart and his crew chief, Darian Grubb, have a championship but not a deal for the 2012 season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

A knowledge of physics (formal and/or job-nurtured), management skills, the ability to think on the run and the ability to deal with the media are a couple of the obvious traits required to be a Sprint Cup crew chief.

Then there are a couple more traits that are of increasing importance: Thick skin, the ability to endure being the fall guy, the ability to absorb verbal abuse in public and adolescent parenting skills.

Crew chiefs are kind of odd to deal with. At the track, they are all business and that can mean, in some cases; beware of dog. Not many seem to enjoy the spotlight – despite the smiles and cordiality which is required when a TV reporter jams a microphone in their face during times when they are thinking engines and suspensions.

Some fair-sized news broke in NASCAR this autumn involving crew chiefs. Very little of it positive if you happen to be the crew chief in question.

Probably the lead story in crew chief-ing this fall concerns the fate of Darian Grubb, who has been Tony Stewart’s crew chief since Stewart became an owner/driver for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.

First contact with Grubb came during a trip to the Stewart-Haas shop in North Carolina the year it opened for business. Serious-to-scary looking with the small beard and big eyebrows, he turned out to be

Tony Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

obviously intelligent and quite accommodating when approached. Although limited in crew chief experience – he worked for Hendrick Motorsports part time with Jimme Johnson and Casey Mears – the overall impression was that, yes, Stewart got the right guy.

The two had their ups and downs in terms of on-track success during their two-plus years together, but, it became apparent this fall, a few too many downs to suit the boss.

As Stewart was streaking his way toward the Sprint Cup championship by winning five – 50 percent – of the Chase races, Grubb was being groomed for unemployment. On the weekend of the final race of the Chase, a top story was that of Grubb’s future.

Seems he was told in week five of the 10-race Chase that his services would not be needed in 2012. Presumably with the line which employers love to use as it allows them to ruin other people’s lives without incurring any guilt: Nothing personal, just business.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Grubb said during a media session at Homestead a week ago. “But I was told early in the Chase before Charlotte that next year I was not going to be here. We just kept fighting and doing everything we had to do every week.

“It did not change anything, what the outcome was going to be. We fought as if we were going to fight to

Kevin Harvick gave crew chief Gil Martin a champagne shower and a pink slip. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

win this championship, and we did it, and now we’ll just see in this coming week how things change.”

That week has come and gone and no news on a reprieve.

Stewart, when asked about Grubb’s future with the company after Homestead, said very little of substance.

“There’s a lot of things in the offseason and decisions that have to be made,” Stewart said. “Obviously, we wanted to get through this championship battle first, and we’ll sit down as a group, obviously, this week and figure out the direction of our program.

“I know what his status is for the rest of the night, and I’m going to get him drunk.”

While it could be that winning a championship was not enough to save Grubb’s job, it appears back-to-back third-place finishes were not enough to keep Gil Martin atop Kevin Harvick’s pit box.

Officials at Richard Childress Racing announced last week that they shifting their crew chiefs around and that Martin was on the move. In his place will be Shane Wilson.

Martin, a crew chief at RCR since August 2000, has been named director of team operations, reporting to director of competition Kent Day.

“Kevin (Harvick) came to me after the Phoenix race a couple weeks ago and asked for a change in the leadership of his team for the 2012 season,” said Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing, said in a press release.

It appears that Steve Addington jumped rather than was pushed from the pitbox of Kurt Busch. And who could blame Addington for making the jump?

If requesting a 30-second interview during a key early moment at Homestead earned TV reporter Dr. Jerry Punch – one of the very, very good ones in his biz – a profanity-lace tirade which included Fbombs and even MFbombs, then imagine what Addington’s life must have been like the last couple years.

Actually, those who have scanners at race tracks know exactly what Addington’s life has been like working for a driver who seems to think there is no “we” in team.

Late in the race at Homestead, championship contender Carl Edwards got huffy with his crew chief, Bob Osborne, who was attempting to calculate fuel mileage. Osborne cooly replied to Edwards over the two-way radio that those calculations are complex and take a few seconds. Edwards have the class to apologize.

Some drivers do not. Most owners side with drivers.

And all too often it seems it is the crew chief who pays the price.

Guess there should be one more skill that all crew chiefs should have have – the ability to quickly fill out unemployment forms.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 27 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Dick says:

    I’d say, yes…some Cup crew chiefs certainly earn their money more so than others. Like, for instance, Curt Busch’s crew chief! (‘nuf said!) And, before Tony finally decided to grow up and act like a man, Greg Zipadelli certainly had his hands full of coping with a temperamental, childish driver.