LONG POND, Pa. – Denny Hamlin isn’t expecting his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to miss a beat, even with crew chief Darian Grubb facing a six-week suspension.
“I’m in pretty good hands with a guy I’ve been with 10 years,” said Hamlin, referring to team engineer Mike Wheeler, who will fill in for Grubb.
“I’ve been with Mike longer than I’ve worked with anyone in the Cup Series. He’s been ready to crew chief for a pretty long time. I don’t think things will change at the race track too much. Darian’s in constant contact with Wheels at all times and myself.”
Grubb and car chief Wesley Sherrill were suspended and Hamlin was docked 75 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points by NASCAR for violations discovered after the No. 11 Toyota Camry finished third at last week’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR found several rear firewall block-off plates detached, resulting in a redirection of air flow and possibly additional downforce.
Finishing no worse than eighth in any of the last three races, Hamlin had climbed to 11th only to slide to 21st when the points penalty was applied.
“It sucks because you lose a little bit of that momentum,” said Hamlin, who remains in position to make the Chase field thanks to his victory at Talladega. “But you also know that regardless … we were running pretty fast last week. We’re pretty confident that we’ll get through this and, by Chase time, we’ll be a contender.
“You use stuff like this as motivation to prove that you can run fast no matter what. We were on a run the last month-and-a-half to two months. I feel like our cars are really starting to turn the corner. I’m excited about what these next six weeks bring.”
Hamlin said he expects that Joe Gibbs Racing will appeal the severity of the penalties. If upheld, Grubb would be eligible to return for the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Hamlin showed speed early in Friday’s practice for the GoBowling.com 400 and finished 13th on the speed chart at 178.955 mph. Kurt Busch’s Chevrolet (180.353) and Brad Keselowski’s Ford (180.155) were the only cars to exceed 180 mph. In qualifying later Friday Hamlin qualified 13th.