- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They let Darian Grubb skip class every Friday.

That’s how much his Virginia Tech professors could see his passion for racing, identify his engineering acumen and recognize his bright future in motorsports.

“To make sure I could get to the short tracks in Virginia and Tennessee, I had to miss,” Grubb recalled. “But I was able to work with them to get my work done.”

Nearly a decade later, a career that began with tuning cars at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., has taken Grubb, 31, to Hendrick Motorsports — a four-car NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heavyweight starring Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears.

A winning crew chief in the Daytona 500 with Johnson in 2006 and the Coca-Cola 600 with Mears last year, Grubb’s latest position is coordinating the at-track engineering efforts for cars driven by Earnhardt and Mears although he will spend most of his time with Earnhardt.

Grubb’s efforts continued to pay off yesterday when Earnhardt won the first 150-mile qualifying race and the right to start second in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Earnhardt, who also won the Budweiser Shootout last weekend, took the lead with nine laps remaining.

“I feel like we’ve got a great shot [Sunday],” he said. “I’m really proud to have the talent I’ve got on my team and the depth of the organization. It’s been a pleasure, and it sure makes a driver’s job a lot easier.”

Grubb started working on cars during his high school days in Floyd County, Va., 30 miles southeast of Blacksburg. Floyd is a one-stoplight town, and Grubb’s graduating class was 157 — then the second-largest in the school’s history. His parents, Duane and Wanda, still live in Floyd.

“It was a hobby, but I knew I was mechanical minded,” Grubb said.

After graduating from Virginia Tech, Grubb worked in the private sector before posting his resume online. He received an offer from Petty Enterprises two weeks later as a design engineer for the team’s transition to Dodge. Working for a smaller company (two cars) proved beneficial.

“I became more familiar with every role in the garage: design engineer, shock engineer, team engineer,” Grubb said. “I had to become a jack of all trades, so you get to understand the concepts of an entire team and not just a specialized part.”

Grubb’s first four years at Hendrick were spent working on Johnson’s No. 48 team, including the 2006 series championship. To start that season, Grubb was installed as crew chief when Chad Knaus was suspended. Johnson won the race.

Last year, four days before leaving for Daytona, Grubb was installed as Mears’ crew chief. Mears finished 15th in points and won his first career race.

“Being a crew chief was a huge help [in his current role] because I’m able to understand the crew chief’s perspective and all the things they need to support them in the decision-making process on race day,” Grubb said. “I definitely enjoyed it. I was pushed into it both times and had to run head-first, but I grew to enjoy it.”

During a September reshuffling, Grubb was elevated into more of a management position.

“We’ve asked Darian to shoulder more responsibility and take another step,” team owner Rick Hendrick said during the offseason. “With all the challenges and difficult situations we’ve thrown his way, he has always proven to be successful. Darian’s a star in our organization.”

Said Grubb: “I’m deeper into the engineering than I have been in the past because I have more time to work with all the groups — chassis department, research and development, aero, engine — to coordinate projects to make sure the teams get what they need.”

Grubb and his staff analyze computer data from practices and races and also simulate races weeks ahead of time to anticipate problems so they can be solved quickly on race day. Grubb said he is one of 80 Hendrick employees among 550 who have college degrees.

“That number is steadily increasing,” he said. “We’re looking for that talent in the recruiting process. I’m really enjoying a role of working with young engineers and coordinating the efforts.”


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