FOX NASCAR Awards: Crew chief of 2011
This week, FOXSports.com will offer its own series of NASCAR awards to close out the 2011 season. In this segment, NASCAR on FOX's Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond, FOXSports.com NASCAR Editor Jorge Mondaca, SPEED Editor in Chief Tom Jensen, FOXSports.com Senior NASCAR writer Lee Spencer, FOXSports.com NASCAR writers Holly Cain and Rea White and SPEED NASCAR writer Mike Hembree weigh in on who was the best at making those crucial race calls in 2011.
Crew Chief of the Year
Waltrip: If I look at the whole year, it could have been No. 99 crew chief Bob Osborne. But then there are lots of candidates throughout the year who helped their drivers have a spurt of momentum, like Gil Martin, who led Kevin Harvick’s team in 2011, Dave Rogers (Kyle Busch’s crew chief), Kenny Francis (Kasey Kahne) or Paul Wolfe (Brad Keselowski). But when you boil it down and you get to when it really counted — making the right calls and decisions under pressure to help their driver win races and the championship — there’s no question in my mind that it is Darian Grubb. The crew chief of the No. 14 team was lackadaisical and not really all that sharp during the regular season, but for whatever reason, when the Chase for the Sprint Cup started, Darian stepped up, the team stepped up — that’s leadership. Add in the fact that he knew before the Chase that he was going to be out of a job at the end of the year and that makes it even more impressive because he stayed committed and focused to lead that team to the championship. A lot of guys had spurts of brilliance throughout the year, but Grubb led his team to the championship and that makes him my crew chief of the year.
McReynolds: This is one of the tough ones, too. It’s a distinct toss-up between the two championship contending crew chiefs, but I’m going to have to give the nod to Bob Osborne. He and his team have been a model of consistency this year. He has guided that team to getting back on the track to be sitting here after 36 races with no DNFs, I know they haven’t absolutely wore Victory Lane out, but they have been an absolute model of consistency. Twenty-five top-10 finishes, eight top fives, but his top fives is four more than anyone else and more than double Tony Stewart’s top fives, so I’m going to have to go with Bob Osborne.
Hammond: It’s going to be Darian Grubb, and not just because he won the championship; it’s how he won the championship and why he won the championship. Here’s a guy who knew he was out and he never wavered. He did some of his finest and most methodical work under some of the toughest pressure that anybody could ever imagine being under to get a championship knowing that he was going to be shown the door after the checkered flag. I just think that’s incredible. Having been in that position before and knowing that things are unstable, but wanting to make sure that when you went out that door you left it better than it was when you were in it, I think that’s huge. And again, I feel that because I’ve been there. When Darrell and I were having issues, I won the race in Pocono Raceway on Sunday and I left on Monday. But he couldn’t say that I quit him when he was down. Tony Stewart can never look at Darian Grubb and say, ‘You knew you were out at my establishment and you quit on me and I knew you were a quitter.’ He can only look at Darian Grubb with the admiration of knowing this man’s a racer and he gave me my championship, he helped me get my championship. Now, everybody can say, ‘Well heck, if he’d done his job leading up to it he wouldn’t have been in that position.’ Didn’t matter. He never quit on Tony. And I think that is so, so huge. I see a lot of guys that get down in a situation like that and know that they’re kind of like in a lame-duck environment, it would be so easy to have let anything happen that day and Carl Edwards would be champion, and finishing second, him leaving, everybody would say, ‘Well, they didn’t work good together, he cost Tony the championship.’ But he didn’t. He didn’t.
Jensen: Bob Osborne. One of the most under-appreciated guys in the garage, Osborne was the architect of Carl Edwards’ sensational season.
Spencer: Paul Wolfe, Penske Racing. Wolfe took a mediocre crew that had finished 25th in the points standings last year and transformed the No. 2 team into a top-five force to contend with. Wolfe’s driver Brad Keselowski was 25th in points prior to his first Penske Sprint Cup win in May at Kansas Speedway. With two additional wins in the next 11 races, Keselowski comfortably moved a wild-card position for his first Chase for the Sprint Cup berth.
Cain: Darian Grubb’s gutsy, strategy calls in all the clutch moments helped guide Tony Stewart’s team to an unmatched five wins in the Chase and his first title as crew chief. Even more amazing? He did it all after being told by Stewart he wouldn’t be returning to the team next season. It was a lesson in dedication, rising to the occasion and above all, grace and class.
White: Not only did Darian Grubb power his Stewart-Haas Racing team to its first NASCAR Sprint Cup title, he also led it to five wins in the Chase. He showed grace and poise under pressure, taking risks right down to one of his final calls in the season finale. And he did so knowing that he would not be returning with the team in 2011. It was a classy, thoughtful, intelligent march to the title for a man who has labored long in the shadows in the sport.
Hembree: Darian Grubb, for engineering a crisp championship run despite knowing his time with the team was short.