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In a bit of unusual timing, Richard Petty Motorsports hired former Denny Hamlin crew chief Mike Ford on Monday to head its No. 43 team, nine races after the season already began.
The timing is odd because though driver Aric Almirola is 23rd in points and has just one top-10 finish, the expectations for the young driver couldn't have realistically been much better than that. So it's surprising to see crew chief Greg Erwin – who formerly guided Greg Biffle – get the boot so quickly.
It would be one thing if Almirola was well behind teammate Marcos Ambrose in the point standings, but Ambrose is 22nd in points – just one spot ahead in the standings – and doesn't have any top-10 finishes. And certainly the expectations for Ambrose had to be much higher than for Almirola's No. 43 team.
Because of those numbers, Petty's move at this point figures to be more about Ford's availability than Erwin and Almirola's performance together – though admittedly, that's pure speculation.
This is how Richard Petty Motorsports' press release began: "Richard Petty Motorsports asserted its commitment to winning with the hiring of Chase-proven Mike Ford as crew chief for the No. 43 team and driver Aric Almirola."
In addition, Petty was quoted as saying this: "We're fortunate that he was available and that we could reach a deal to bring him over to our place."
Maybe RPM wanted to get Ford all along, and the crew chief finally got tired of sitting at home and holding out for a better offer. It certainly was surprising no team picked up Ford in the offseason after Joe Gibbs Racing fired him in December, especially since the guy fielded a car that almost won the championship two seasons ago.
Ford will be on top of Almirola's pit box immediately, beginning at Talladega. But expectations for Almirola shouldn't change overnight; if Ford does make a difference, it will likely won't happen right away.
But Ford's long-term impact on RPM will be significant, because he can bring ideas and information to not only the No. 43 team, but to Ambrose's No. 9 team and to Ford – the manufacturer, not the crew chief – as a whole.
In some ways, Greg Zipadelli and Joe Gibbs Racing grew up in NASCAR together. Drivers and other personnel came and went, but Zipadelli was a constant in the role of No. 20 team crew chief.
The man they call "Zippy" knew he would have had a job for life at JGR if he wanted it.
But he also wanted a new challenge, more family time and the chance to work for Tony Stewart, who is one of his best friends. And so, after a great deal of discussion, JGR agreed to let Zipadelli leave for the competition director role at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Team president J.D. Gibbs said Friday the process was "difficult."
"It's hard," Gibbs said. "It's hard for him in a lot of ways – this has been his home for a long time. And it's hard for us."
Jason Ratcliff has been promoted to crew chief for Joey Logano and the No. 20 team after a successful career in the Nationwide Series, where he mostly called the shots for Kyle Busch.
"I've been real fortunate to work with Kyle for several years, and I learned a lot about the calls you make throughout the race – the strategy, what it takes to go out and run for championships," Ratcliff said.
Logano and Ratcliff have teamed up in the Nationwide Series for a few races, and they've spent some time together over the last couple days. The new crew chief said he's confident he'll be able to generate chemistry with Logano.
That wasn't always the case for Zipadelli and Logano. As Gibbs said Friday, Zipadelli had a brother-like relationship with Stewart – constant fights, but able to get over any hurt feelings quickly.
While Zipadelli tried to adjust to the younger Logano, they couldn't communicate the same way. With a new crew chief and without the shadow of Stewart's legacy, Logano could "blossom" next season, Zipadelli said.
"He's an amazing young kid who has a lot of talent," Zipadelli said. "He just needs to keep working at it. ... There was an amazing amount of weight on him to try and fill those shoes, and those are shoes that just don't get filled.
"As long as I was there and my group was there, there was still something about that. ... He's got a great opportunity to prove himself with a completely different level of expectations."
But that didn't mean Zipadelli was able to leave JGR easily. The team worked to keep him, but ultimately gave him a release after some sort of an agreement with Stewart.
"I think he still has a passion to crew chief, but when you're away from your family a lot, at some point, you want to have that (JGR competition director) role Jimmy Makar has – and they have that over there," Gibbs said. "We've had the conversations with Tony and some of that team over there, and it makes sense. It doesn't make it easier, but we kind of understand, and it makes sense."
This is the second crew chief change for JGR in the offseason. Last week, the team fired Denny Hamlin crew chief Mike Ford and hired Darian Grubb – who won a championship with Stewart this season – in his place.
As it turns out, Grubb and Zipadelli essentially swapped teams (though Zipadelli didn't end up in the same role).
When Greg Zipadelli decided to join Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing as the team's competition director, he figured his career as a crew chief was likely over.
But in the last two days, as the announcement about joining Stewart-Haas neared, Zipadelli and Stewart added another duty to the new job: Interim crew chief for Danica Patrick's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series efforts in 2012.
Zipadelli told reporters Friday he expects to be Patrick's crew chief for the Daytona 500 and perhaps all of the former IndyCar driver's 10-race Sprint Cup schedule in the upcoming season.
"I'm looking forward to it," Zipadelli said. "I think it'll be fun, it'll be exciting. Her races are spread out throughout the year. We'll go and do the best we can with it and give her a great opportunity."
The former Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief (most recently for Joey Logano) has yet to speak with Patrick, but believes he can help build her No. 10 Cup team this season until he hires a permanent crew chief.
Zipadelli said it could take "until the end of the year" to find someone and added "We'll take as much time as we need." His goal is to find a crew chief who fits in with the rest of the organization, and he wants someone who can work with Patrick on a long-term basis.
That comment and some of other remarks indicated he may be atop the pit box for Patrick's entire first Cup season, which is scheduled to consist of 10 races.
"I know I'm going to get to do a couple races and be actively involved in getting her cars built and getting some people hired, putting that group together," he said. "It'll help me wean myself from that passion and daily fire to moving into this new position. (Leaving the crew chief role) won't be such a culture shock to me."
While the two haven't met, Zipadelli said he believes Patrick has an intense passion for racing and a great will to win.
"Talking to Tony and why he agreed to do this, she's got more determination than most people," he said. "She has confidence in her ability – she's proven that in the past. The big thing about it is the want and the desire, and that seems to be there without any question at all."
As far as why he decided to leave the comfort of Joe Gibbs Racing – where he believed he could have had a job for life – Zipadelli said there were two main factors: A new challenge and the opportunity to work for one of his best friends.
"The opportunity was there now; would it be there again? I don't know," he said. "We've always had a unique relationship where we've just really respected each other. We can be harsh with each other and not worry about each other's feelings. I trust and believe in him as much as I do anybody on this earth. ... He knows I'll always have his back, and he can just concentrate on racing."
In a pair of coordinated announcements on Friday morning, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing announced Greg Zipadelli will leave JGR reunite with Tony Stewart at SHR as the team's new competition director.
JGR said Jason Ratcliff will move up from its Nationwide Series team to become Joey Logano's crew chief on the No. 20 Sprint Cup Series team.
Stewart and Zipadelli have a long history together and won two championships during their driver/crew chief relationship at JGR last decade.
But when Stewart left to own his own Sprint Cup Series team, he was not allowed to take any key JGR employees with him. So Zipadelli stayed behind and mentored Logano, though that combination never quite found much magic.
Stewart won this year's Sprint Cup Series championship without a competition director after firing Bobby Hutchens in June, but the role still needed to be filled. Zipadelli was apparently able to get out of his deal with Gibbs and gain permission to join SHR.
"We took our time in searching for a competition director because it's an important role with a lot of responsibility," Stewart said. "Greg knows all that goes into the job, understands the importance of teamwork and communication across all levels of the organization, and is ultimately someone I have a great deal of trust in."
The move will probably be better for all parties involved – though Gibbs certainly wouldn't want to part ways with "Zippy's" talent, Ratcliff will be a more appropriate fit for the young Logano.
"(Zipadelli) has been a big part of our success, but we felt the timing was right to make this transition for our race team," Joe Gibbs said.
Stewart, meanwhile, has formed a JGR retro team: His crew chief is former JGR crew chief Steve Addington, and now he adds Zipadelli to the mix.
We'll have more to come on these stories with some teleconferences today.
Darian Grubb had plenty of options when he began searching for a new job following his firing from Stewart-Haas Racing.
But first, he had to decide whether to be a crew chief or take a management role overseeing engineering with some team (like the one he was offered at Hendrick Motorsports). Grubb ultimately chose to remain a crew chief for family reasons – the 36-year-old figured he would stay atop the pit box for about four more years, until his son began to play T-Ball and soccer.
"Right now, I still have that competitive fire in me," he said. "I feel like if I'm not in that position on top of the box being able to make those calls and seat-of-the-pants decisions, then I'd really be missing out on something. I want to continue that."
After deciding to take a crew chief job, the question was: Where?
Grubb met with Joe Gibbs Racing and found the organization had many resources and much enthusiasm about his possible arrival, so he eventually chose to go there and become Denny Hamlin's crew chief.
Team president J.D. Gibbs said the team was already leaning toward parting ways with Mike Ford when Grubb became available, but he wasn't clear on how closely the two moves were linked.
Either way, Grubb presented a better "long-term" fit for the organization, Gibbs said.
Grubb said his motivation for the next few seasons came from wanting to win a championship with Hamlin – not to prove Tony Stewart made a mistake by firing him.
"I didn't choose to not be a crew chief with the situation I was in before," he said. "I really don't feel like I have anything to prove ... I'm not going to do anything for spite, because those are all the wrong reasons. I want to do it because I want to win a championship with those guys."
Will Grubb take all of Chevy/Hendrick's information with him to Toyota? The crew chief said he left all the technical information behind, but acknowledged "You can't unlearn lessons you've learned."
"Hopefully I can take those and put those to good use and try to win a championship with the 11 car," he said.
Gibbs ducked a question when asked by a reporter whether JGR was done with crew chief changes for this offseason or whether there would be more. The query was made because rumors persist about No. 20 team crew chief Greg Zipadelli trying to get his release from JGR to join Stewart-Haas as its competition director.
"This is all we're really focused on right now," Gibbs said. "I'm sure we'll have other discussions in the future, which we do every year. But right now, this is all we're looking at."
Gibbs also said Ford had been granted his release from JGR and was free to look for other jobs.
Darian Grubb, the championship crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing who was fired after the season, has landed on his feet.
Grubb was announced as the new crew chief for Denny Hamlin's team at Joe Gibbs Racing on Friday morning, replacing the fired Mike Ford.
"I'm thrilled to join Joe Gibbs Racing," Grubb said. "The chance to work with Denny is something I'm excited about. When you sit down with Joe and J.D. Gibbs, you can't help but be excited about this opportunity and the team aspects of JGR.
"There is no question about the level of support you get here and I'm looking forward to working with everyone across the entire organization."
After Grubb was told midway through the Chase he would lose his job at the end of the season, he led Tony Stewart to an impressive stretch which included three wins in the final four races and a fuel-mileage strategy at Homestead which clinched the championship.
But that wasn't enough to change Stewart's mind about wanting a new crew chief, and Grubb was let go in favor of former Kurt Busch crew chief Steve Addington.
JGR and Toyota are likely salivating at the prospect of hiring Grubb, who brings a wealth of knowledge from Chevrolet and knows everything Hendrick Motorsports is doing to its cars.
"Obviously, he has proven the ability to guide a team to a championship," Joe Gibbs said, "and we are excited to have him working with Denny toward achieving that goal here at Joe Gibbs Racing."
Hamlin, too, is likely excited at having a fresh start and the opportunity to work with a proven championship crew chief.
Grubb had to decide between accepting a crew chief role – like the one at Gibbs – or a management/engineering role, like the one that was offered to him by Hendrick Motorsports.
He ultimately decided being on the pit box was the right place for him, with more to accomplish and prove as a crew chief.
Darian Grubb got choked up several times during his acceptance speech of the NASCAR Champion Crew Chief Award on Thursday in Las Vegas, nearly breaking down at one point.
The crowd at the annual NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Luncheon gave Grubb a standing ovation for his eloquent remarks, which included a thank-you to former driver/boss Tony Stewart. The pairing won the championship, but Grubb was told halfway through the Chase he would be fired at the end of the season.
Why was Grubb so emotional in his speech?
"It's tough," he said afterward. "To win the championship, it's one of the special moments of my life; but also knowing it's coming to an end in two days, it's a tough thing. But I've already got my office cleaned out, and we're ready to get moving."
Grubb said he'll decide his future next week. He's not sure whether he'll accept another crew chief position or perhaps a management role with a yet-to-be-determined team.
But Grubb said he still didn't know exactly why he was let go in the first place.
"I wish I knew," he said. "It's a big business. It's all about performance, and obviously there was something – that wasn't communicated to me – that I wasn't doing correctly. I wish I had an opportunity to try to fix that, wish I'd had that feedback somewhere along the line.
"But obviously, we had our ups and downs through the season. We had some really tough spots where my calls were bad, some other times where the cars were bad. It's just tough – those things stack up and sometimes the emotion may play more into the decision than the actual facts."
Stewart said Thursday he and the management at Stewart-Haas Racing felt a change was necessary and added it wasn't personal toward Grubb. He cited inconsistency and missed opportunities as factors in the decision.
"We're appreciative for everything he's done; very, very grateful we were able to finish the year the way we did, obviously," Stewart said. "It's one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make.
"Unfortunately, one or two wins and a championship doesn't change some of the variables we were looking at changing. Trust me, there's no major flaws with Darian, but we felt like we needed a change and we stuck with that."
Grubb will not be offered another job in the organization, such as competition director or crew chief for Danica Patrick, Stewart said.
So how was Grubb able to keep pushing forward through the last half of the Chase, even knowing he'd been fired?
"Just making sure I didn't let the team down," he said. " ... I didn't want to let those guys down, because they all worked too hard for this."
The crew chief acknowledged his championship celebration in Las Vegas was "awkward," but said he and his former team are trying to put it out of their minds. Grubb is even staying in the same hotel as the team so they can all go to dinner together.
Though there's a temptation to be bitter and want to prove Stewart wrong, Grubb said he's trying not to let those negative emotions seep into his decision-making.
"That's the hard part – you can't let those emotions be part of your deciding factor," he said. "Then you're doing it for the wrong reasons. I want to keep my integrity – I don't want to do it for spite or ill feeling. We want to go out there and win championships in the future; whether it's in a management role or a crew chief role, we'll decide next week."
Just eight days after one of the greatest NASCAR races ever comes one of the all-time NASCAR head-scratchers: Tony Stewart has hired Steve Addington as crew chief despite winning the Sprint Cup Series championship (and three of the final four races) with Darian Grubb.
From the outside looking in, this move seems to go directly against the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage. But when Stewart made the decision and informed Grubb he was gone, it was prior to the Charlotte race in mid-October – well before the Stewart/Grubb tandem went on their championship tear.
As such, Grubb is out and Addington – most recently the crew chief for Kurt Busch – is in as the No. 14 team's leader. He'll be charged with defending a championship he had no part of.
"I know Steve well and I know how he goes about setting up a race car," Stewart said in a statement. "My comfort level with him is already strong. He balances the technical part of our sport with the real-world experiences we get at the track, and that will allow for a smooth transition as we prepare to defend our title in 2012."
Stewart worked with Addington at Joe Gibbs Racing, when Addington was crew chief for Bobby Labonte, J.J. Yeley and later Kyle Busch.
In a statement, Addington said he and Stewart are "a lot alike and we're able to push each other." And in truth, Addington's thick skin and patience may be better suited for the volatile Stewart than Grubb was (we don't really know what went on behind the scenes to prompt this move).
"He expects a lot and he knows a lot," Addington said. "His talent behind the wheel is obvious, but his ability to motivate and get everyone to believe that whatever goal they set is attainable is something every crew chief wants, and I plan to make the most of it."
While Addington may be a great hire, it's still bizarre to see Grubb get kicked to the curb after winning a championship. His fuel-mileage strategy was instrumental in Stewart taking home the driver's third Cup title.
It's unclear what Grubb's next move will be, though Rick Hendrick said Monday he's interested in hiring Grubb as an engineer. Grubb seemed puzzled at Stewart's decision after the Homestead race, saying he "always wanted to stay with the organization."
"Darian was a very important part of the success we've had at Stewart-Haas Racing," Stewart said. "I'm very proud of everything he helped accomplish, especially this year when we all rallied to win the championship. He's a great person and I know he'll continue to be successful in this sport."
Tony Stewart's championship-winning crew chief, Darian Grubb, says he's been fired.
Grubb, speaking after he and Stewart won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title on Sunday night, said he was told prior to the Charlotte Chase race that he would not be welcomed back by Stewart-Haas Racing next season.
"I always wanted to stay with the organization," he said. "That's the reason I came here – to build something special."
The crew chief said "we'll see in this coming week how things change," but didn't sound optimistic he would be back.
Stewart ducked a question about Grubb's status and said, "I know what his status is for the rest of the night – I'm going to get him drunk."
Asked if it was possible Grubb would return to SHR next season, Stewart would not say.
"There's a lot of things in the offseason and a lot of decisions that have to be made," he said. "Obviously, we wanted to get through this championship battle first. We'll sit down as a group this week and figure out the direction of our program."
Told the news was baffling considering his team had just won the championship, Grubb agreed and said, "it still is to me, honestly."
Grubb seemed to leave the door open for a return to SHR if the team wanted him back. He said he's already been talking other teams and that the relationship between he and Stewart "was a little tough and strained" after he learned he'd been fired.
Would Grubb return to SHR if asked?
"It all depends," he said. "We'll just have to do those talks this week and see what happens."
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