COLUMN: The mutually beneficial split
Stewart, Grubb prosper apart
Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb have each won six out of the past 13 Sprint Cup races, dating back to the beginning of the 2011 Chase. They aren’t the same six, thanks to the past two.
At some level, the word “touché” had to flash into Stewart’s mind, at least briefly, on Sunday after he won the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Grubb is now directing the efforts of Denny Hamlin, whose Toyota won at Phoenix. Stewart’s crew chief is now Steve Addington, who ably managed the 45th career victory of the reigning champion.
It was only Addington’s third official race as crew chief, but he and Stewart go back a ways at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I really believe that Tony is just coming into his own,” Addington said. “He's as calm as I've ever seen him. He's composed, very confident in what he does. I have no doubt this could be another pivotal year for Tony.”
Why Stewart and Grubb split is probably going to seem a little mysterious until one day when one of them talks about it more. They’ve both been tactful and sportsmanlike. Somehow, Stewart, en route to his third championship, told his crew chief he was out at the end of the season and still managed to close the deal. How could this possibly be? Because it happened. Somehow it happened. Somehow it seems to have had a happy ending on both sides, sort of like one of those trades in team sports that is mutually beneficial.
“It still was a tough decision, like we talked about a million times now,” Stewart said, but it couldn’t have been more than 10,000, and there never has been much detail.
“It was a tough decision to leave with Darian (Grubb),” he added. “From day one we told Steve (Addington) that we had an awesome scenario at the end of the year, winning the championship.
“I was really happy for Darian last week to get that (Phoenix) win. I know it was a tough scenario for us to part ways at the end of the year. It was neat to see him and Denny (Hamlin) get a win last week. It's neat to see me and Steve get a win this week.”
One twelfth of the season is in the books. Daytona left us with the wisp of a hint of what will follow. Phoenix gave the season an ethereal form. Las Vegas etched a drawing. With a short-track race next (Bristol), the season will almost be full-bodied black and white.
What remains the same other than Stewart and Grubb? Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t put a whole race together. Greg Biffle finished third for the third time in as many races. What was an orderly and clearly defined race for about 140 laps evolved into the usual fracas at the end. Track position was crucial. The leader seemed to have a perpetual advantage.
On the other hand, the final laps did come down to a tense struggle between two of the very best, Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, and the reigning champ held off the charge of a driver who won five straight titles before him.
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton