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There were several surprises at Phoenix International Raceway last Sunday afternoon and not all of them were associated with the winner of the race. Yes, it’s true Denny Hamlin did end up in Victory Lane with the help of his new crew chief, Darian Grubb. As everyone knows, Darian Grubb was crew chief for Tony Stewart last year and has continued his winning ways with the number 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team. It should come as no surprise and now, statistically speaking, Grubb has won six out of the last 12 races in NASCAR as a crew chief. No matter how you look at it, or what you think about him, that’s a very interesting statistic.
It almost makes this fan wonder what Tony Stewart is thinking about his decision to release Darian Grubb and take on a new crew chief. (Notice I said , almost…) From this fan’s view, it is way too early for someone to start second guessing himself and I am sure Tony isn’t doing that. It is just interesting how the momentum generated during last years Chase seems to be following Grubb, at least for the moment. I guess time will tell if that continues or fades as the season progresses. Could it be that the expectations everyone had for Denny Hamlin last year is going to be something that happens this year? Well… as far as that goes, time will tell about that, too.
The other most obvious surprise of the weekend had to do with the EFI system. It appears all the bugs are not yet worked out and, even though we know this is part of the learning curve, there are still a few problems the teams are going to have to learn how to contend with. It’s just an observation from my view, but not only are the crew chiefs going to have to figure it out, but the drivers, too. It doesn’t appear to be associated with any one car or team, but the differing minor problems are spread out over several teams and hardly ever is it the same problem for the same team.
One possible reason there were problems at Phoenix could be because it did become a fuel mileage race as it has often been in the past. I was thinking with the introduction of EFI that it might not be that, but I was proved wrong and I guess I should have expected it. From my view, I do think EFI will eventually make a bigger difference in fuel mileage than it did in Phoenix. It does appear that the fuel pickups and some of the things drivers used to do to save fuel may have to be altered somewhat but, we all know these are just minor setbacks and challenges the engineers are more than willing to take on.
Now, I understand that EFI is new to everyone and that problems and situations should be expected, so I’m not too worried about the ability of the different teams to figure it out. I do think, as we witnessed at Phoenix, that there may be some frustrated drivers and even some frustrated crews and crew chiefs until that happens but, I don’t expect those problems to be long-lived. It is this fan’s best guess that it is only a matter of time until things like this happening will be in the rear view mirror.
Jimmie Johnson did exactly what he needed to do by finishing fourth to start digging himself out of the hole they were in after Speed Weeks in Daytona, with his trip into the wall early in lap two causing him to finish 43rd along with the penalties NASCAR imposed on them after the failed inspection. Although the jury is still out on the penalties for the crew chief and car chief, it does appear the team is already on the road to recovery.
Just as a quick side note to that situation; I just have to put in my two cents about the whole thing. I often hear how Chad Knaus has been caught “cheating” and either fined or suspended (or both). First of all, I think the word “cheating” is over used and prefer to call what he and the other crew chiefs do, “finding the limits” or “stretching the envelope.”
I know some, or maybe even many, will disagree with me, but rules, especially in racing are often purposely written a bit vaguely. That usually means it leaves room for a thing called “discovery” and what I mean by that is what many crew chiefs call, “testing the gray areas.” They all do it and sometimes, like at Daytona and the #48 team, NASCAR decides to draw a new line that shouldn’t be crossed. When that happens, it is no longer a gray area.
Personally, I have to agree with many that have expressed their opinion on the penalties being a little harsh that were proposed by NASCAR. Remember, this was a car that never made it to the track before the legality was questioned. It was repaired before it ever set tires on the track. As for the comments about Chad Knaus “cheating”, I’ll stick with my original comment. He was finding “a measurable limit” to something that, before Daytona, “fit the template…”
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© March 8, 2012 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
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