Crew chief analysis: Inside No. 11 penalty
July 29, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
Editor's note: Chris Rice, competition director for RAB Racing, has joined NASCAR.com as a guest writer and crew chief expert for the 2014 season. In the wake of penalties issued to Joe Gibbs Racing on Tuesday, Rice offered his instant analysis and commentary:
Tuesday's ruling against Joe Gibbs Racing with a 75-point penalty for Denny Hamlin and a six-race suspension for crew chief Darian Grubb is easily the biggest penalty of the NASCAR season thus far. In terms of severity, I can see making a case from both sides of the fence.
NASCAR is pretty tight on stuff that goes into the driver's compartment because that goes toward the safety side of it. Say he backs into the wall and it catches on fire and the flames come through any gap in the bodywork. I think they look at that pretty hard. I understand it from the NASCAR side of it, but from the team side of it, we look at it as pretty severe for what may have been wrong with it. It could have been a part where it wasn't made correctly and it was held up or something that wasn't really meant to be. There's a lot of heat back there where the rear end is, where the oil tank box is, so there's a lot of things that could have gone wrong in that area before post-race inspection.
All of us try to get everything we can get downforce-wise, side force-wise ... everything we can get. When you do that, you do push the envelope on a bunch of things. Some things get caught; some of them don't. This must've been an area that was very obvious to the NASCAR officials because a lot of people run the covers and plates that go over the rear package tray. It must've been something that was pretty apparent, but we all push the limits trying to get everything we can get to get an advantage over our competitors. Sometimes when you do that, you get bit.
With Darian Grubb going ahead and serving his suspension while under appeal, it would put him back on the No. 11 pit box in time for the opening race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. It goes to show that Coach Gibbs and those guys over there are pretty smart. He was an NFL coach and he understands how big it is to have your stock car racing coach at the game when it's on the line.
You look at the last two years for Hamlin and that whole No. 11 Toyota team, they've had a rough two years of it with his back injury last year and missing the race in California earlier this season. Adversity is hard to overcome. What they have to do is put it behind them and work harder on the things they're working on and not worry about what's in the past.
With Darian being out for the rest of the regular season, it's not like he's going to be out of the loop. There's a lot of ways you can communicate with crew chiefs while you're away from the race track. Nowadays, crew chiefs are not necessarily that hands-on in situations like that. He'll be able to watch at home and still pay attention to what's going on. A lot of the things they show up to the race track with are still going to be Darian Grubb's ideas.
Let's remember: Darian Grubb got his start why? Because Chad Knaus got kicked out of the Daytona 500 in 2006. That's the way he first got his stardom as a crew chief, filling in and guiding Jimmie Johnson to his first Daytona win.
The whole Gibbs team has some depth in their corner. When you've got engineers who are working under Darian Grubb, who is a very smart guy and was a great engineer himself, you know that the next guy sitting beside him knows every move and every thought that he's getting ready to make.
Darian will still be preparing the cars and he'll also be preparing for the Chase back at home. Now, he won't have the race-track experience that you need, but he will definitely be able to help the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization in the wind tunnel, at the seven-post shaker rig, watching film ... just doing the things he needs to do as long as the team keeps digging deep and not letting this issue beat them down.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.