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Grubb looking to maintain 14 team's momentum

October 01, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

DOVER, Del. -- Crew Chief insists this is no time to rest on the laurels of the past two weeks

It would seem the hardest part is behind the No. 14 team of driver Tony Stewart.

In winning the first two races of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Stewart surged from the No. 9 seed to the top of the point standings. But Darian Grubb, Stewart's crew chief, now sees an even bigger challenge ahead as the team prepares for Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

On their shoulders


David Caraviello writes that crew chiefs get little credit when things go right and all of the blame when they go wrong. The job is an invitation to the most difficult, thankless job in NASCAR, and one that gets tougher with time.

With eight races to go before the 2011 Chase crowns a champion, Grubb insisted this is no time to rest on the laurels of the past two incredible weeks. The job now becomes to hold off the other Chase challengers -- and Grubb said the only way to do that is to continue to build on the positive momentum that seemed to come out of nowhere for his team.

Of course, he also is quick to point out that nothing in racing ever really comes out of nowhere.

"We work just as hard every week as we did the last two," Grubb said. "It's not like you can take a break and hope one of those things just comes along that makes us faster. So we just kept working hard at it and hoping our luck would eventually turn around. Finally, it has. We seem to have had a few things go our way lately.

"It was a long couple of months there in the middle of the season when we were expected to get that win but we still hadn't. Now that we've gotten that, we're just hoping to maintain it."

Stewart said in retrospect that nothing really was all that surprising about the team's turnaround after going winless over the first 26 races this season.

"You know that this sport is so technology driven that you can find something in a week and it will be a big difference, so you never look at it and say it can't happen," Stewart said. "You just hope it's going to happen, or you hope you're not in a situation where you are looking for that. You hope you're already there -- but that wasn't the case for us. We were in a situation where we needed some help."

Grubb and Stewart said they found it in the quiet confidence that comes with the building of a solid organization at Stewart-Haas Racing. Grubb said he has taken pages from his former employer at Hendrick Motorsports, where he spent seven years beginning in 2001.

"I'd say the biggest thing I learned there is that it's just such a big company and there are so many people there in different areas that it's all about using the strengths of the people you have in every position -- and making sure you're extracting the best out of each position," Grubb said. "You want to get the best that a person can give you.

"There's not one person who's ever going to get all the credit for doing everything right. It's the whole team aspect on everything that they do that makes the whole organization stronger."

"If you surround yourself with the right people and let them do their jobs, then it should work out fine."

--TONY STEWART

Stewart said he has attempted to carry over what he learned during a decade-long run as a driver at Joe Gibbs Racing.

"You surround yourself with good people and that's something we learned from Joe Gibbs a long time ago," Stewart said. "If you surround yourself with the right people and let them do their jobs then it should work out fine."

This season's turnaround actually started for the No. 14 team a couple of weeks before the Chase. With the back-to-back wins, Stewart now has four consecutive top-seven finishes and has five top-10s in the past six races.

But Dover is a different beast. The 1-mile track features deceptive corners with 24-degree banking that appear wide but funnel quickly into narrow straightways with 9-degree banking. And its rough concrete surface has been known to chew up tires quickly and spit them out at the most inopportune times.

Despite winning at the Monster Mile twice earlier in his career while driving for JGR, Stewart has struggled much of the time since then. He's finished 11th or worse in nine of his past 13 Dover races, including 21st and 29th in his past two with Grubb on the pit box.

"It's a very unique track compared to everything else we run. The way it transitions from the straightaways into the corners, you have to kind of jump off into a hole. That's a different aspect there," Grubb said. "It gives the drivers a very different feel at that point, where you go down and you land. The way the radius of the corner is and the banking, you get much heavier loading there the way you're jumping off into the corner.

"The way the tire operates here, it seems to change a lot because of the rubber that gets laid down on the concrete. That's definitely a different dynamic that you face from the start of the race to the end."

It also limits Grubb's options as a crew chief, with it unlikely he or others will gamble on two-tire stops to gain valuable track position until possibly very late in the race.

"The wear is pretty heavy on the tires, especially at the start of the race," Grubb said. "It's hard to make those [two-tire] gambles out there. You're better off just trying to play your strategy right so maybe you can do it right at the end, or try to get your track position early and keep it."

After struggling mightily in the final pre-race practice Friday -- when Stewart's fastest lap of 151.141 miles per hour ranked 41st on the speed chart -- the No. 14 wasn't up to much speed during Saturday qualifying, either. Stewart will start 28th Sunday.

"We're throwing everything we can at it. Darian is working on it. Hopefully we'll get it better for the race," Stewart said.