TALLADEGA, Ala. — The most fun Mike Ford had as Denny Hamlin’s crew chief occurred during his first two years in that role.
By the time Ford was replaced by Darian Grubb in his job at Joe Gibbs Racing, the fun was gone — long gone.
In his move to Richard Petty Motorsports as crew chief for Aric Almirola, Ford sees a chance to rekindle the sort of excitement that buoyed him during the early days with Hamlin.
Ford said his release from Gibbs at the end of the 2011 season was timely.
“I’m not going to say a lot about that, other than to say a lot of outside influences made it not fun,” Ford said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. “The past couple of years truly weren’t that fun. It was best for both parties . . .
“It was just time to go. It was time to move on. I don’t have any problem with Denny, and I still have a lot of good friends over there. That’s life. You move on, and you continue on.”
Hamlin and Ford won two races together in 2006, Hamlin’s rookie year. In 2010, Hamlin won a career-best eight races and had the Sprint Cup championship within his grasp before spinning early in the season finale at Homestead and losing the title to Jimmie Johnson.
Ford sees the same spark of talent in Almirola that he nurtured in Hamlin. In his first full season in the Cup series, Almirola is driving the No. 43 Ford for RPM.
“I have seen him be competitive in this series,” Ford said, citing Almirola’s fourth-place finish in a fill-in role at Homestead in 2010. “To see that encourages me. On top of that, he’s a nice guy.
“You want to have someone that you can work with and is kind of low-key — and I’m fairly low-key. I think it’s going to be a good match.”
Ford also relishes the role as a steadying influence for a young driver. Almirola is 28.
“Some of the veteran guys don’t really do well with veteran crew chiefs, because you are bull-headed on some things,” Ford said. “I looked at this and sat with Aric, and he is looking for a leader and someone to mentor him a little bit.
“I’m looking for that role as well, but also, you always learn something from somebody coming in. I’m looking forward to that.”
The collaboration got off to an excellent start at Talladega. Almirola paced both Cup practices, posting a top speed of 199.172 mph in the first session.
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