Mike Ford has been removed as Denny Hamlin's crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, the team confirmed Tuesday night.
Ford's departure comes after a disappointing season in which Hamlin went from 2010 championship contender to Chase also-ran and cited communication issues between the two throughout the season.
The move clears the way for a possible hiring of Darian Grubb, Tony Stewart's champion crew chief who was let go after the season.
After Friday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series awards ceremony in Las Vegas, Hamlin made some revealing comments that perhaps foreshadowed Ford's departure.
Though Hamlin said he expected Ford to return, he also touched on the pair's communication problems.
"I feel good about Mike," Hamlin told several reporters after finishing his banquet speech. "I feel like I can win a championship with him, I feel I can win multiple races – I've done it many, many times. It's just we never got going this year. Our communication was never that great, and it seemed like we panicked at times when we shouldn't have."
Hamlin said his relationship with Ford has "been good for six years" but added the pairing got "stale" in the middle part of this season.
The driver (who finished ninth in points) said he had faith in his crew chief and team, calling them "championship-caliber." But in the same breath, he indicated a change could be necessary.
"So many teams are making wholesale changes right now that you've got to make changes, too," he said. "For us, we've got a great group of guys. And a lot of people say that, but I know my guys are very capable of winning championships. Everyone from Mike – the number one guy – to the (number) two and the three are all championship-caliber.
"It's just there's something we've got to work out and get better. It's not always their fault. A lot of these championships are won before you even leave the race shop. So we're not just looking at, 'It's all one person's fault.' I'm as responsible as anyone for our performance this year."
Hamlin said it seemed like he was reading headlines about crew chiefs switching teams every day so far in the offseason, which made him concerned about the competition next year.
The reason, he said, is when crew chiefs go to new teams, they bring information about what other teams were doing. For example: Drew Blickensderfer can provide insight to Richard Childress Racing on how the Roush Fenway Racing teams were successful.
"It's going to make the competition more parallel next year," Hamlin said. "It's going to be even tougher to win."
After his speech, Hamlin also vowed not to have another season like the one he'd just endured.
"I'm not a ninth-place driver," he said. "I won't stay down here for long."