Mike Ford focused on future, not past with JGR

Crew chief Mike Ford was back at the track Friday, focusing on

his new job with Aric Almirola instead of the past with Joe Gibbs

Racing.

Ford was hired by Richard Petty Motorsports this week as crew

chief for Almirola, and his first race is Sunday at Talladega

Superspeedway. He sat out the first nine races of the season as he

waited for a job after his December dismissal from JGR.

Despite guiding Denny Hamlin to 17 wins and a spot in the Chase

for the Sprint Cup championship in all six of their seasons

together, Ford was let go when JGR had a chance to hire

championship-winning crew chief Darian Grubb. There were no open

Cup crew chief jobs when Ford hit the job market.

”That was pretty bothersome for me because there were a lot of

shifts and the timing of that was not good,” Ford said. ”That is

why you haven’t seen me for a little bit because there wasn’t

anything at that point.”

Still, Ford didn’t want to dwell too much on JGR. His firing was

a bit bizarre, though, because the No. 11 team had been quite

successful under Ford. Hamlin fell just short of winning the 2010

championship but had a steep drop-off last year. That, coupled with

Grubb being let go by Tony Stewart after guiding Stewart to the

title, made Ford expendable.

Ford hinted at ”a lot of outside influence” spoiling the last

few seasons at JGR.

”I want to get something real clear: Me and Denny still get

along. I love Denny to death,” he said. ”This is business. In the

organization you see things that you need to work on and if you are

the only guy that sees them, then you are the guy that is an

issue.

”It just was time to go. It was time to move on. I don’t have

any problems with Denny, and I still have a lot of good friends

over there. That is life. You move on and you continue on.”

Hamlin was pleased to see Ford back in the garage.

”I can’t believe it took this long for the guy to get a job,”

Hamlin said. ”He, in my opinion, is one of the top five crew

chiefs in this garage. I think he is the reason we won that many

races when we were together. ”

But Hamlin also acknowledged the internal issues Ford

fought.

”Within our shop, he didn’t always have the cooperation of

everyone and sometimes people didn’t believe in him as much as they

should, or vice versa,” Hamlin said. ”You have to have everyone

in the shop back you 100 percent, and I think he felt everyone

didn’t have his back at Gibbs.”

Now Ford has a fresh start at RPM, which tabbed him to replace

Greg Erwin after just nine races with Almirola.

Almirola, who was hired in January when AJ Allmendinger left to

join Penske Racing, has just one top-10 finish and is ranked 23rd

in the standings. He said he was looking forward to learning from

Ford, who has also worked with Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott.

”To come in and play that mentor role like he did with Denny,

that is something I am looking forward to with Mike,” Almirola

said. ”To have someone that can talk to me on the radio and kind

of teach me along the way … from the leadership standpoint, I

think Mike is going to be a huge asset. I am looking forward to

being the guy that gets to drive the race car and let Mike tell me

what to do.”