Joe Gibbs Racing released Mike Ford, the crew chief for Denny Hamlin's No. 11 team, effective late Tuesday. No replacement has been announced, but Darian Grubb could well be next in line.
The agonizing battle to rebound from being runner-up for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup title has been painful to watch as Hamlin floundered sporadically during the season under Ford's guidance.
The driver of the FedEx Toyota got only one win this season with five top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. He fought his way to a wild card slot and ended the season ninth in the point standings.
Now is where it gets interesting as the crew chief roulette wheel spins. Darian Grubb has been offered a position with Hendrick Motorsports, but it would be engineering related.
Should Grubb decide he wants to remain atop a pit box as crew chief, the opening with Hamlin at JGR would be at the top of his list.
Grubb has been in contact with JGR and should he decide to accept the position as crew chief for Hamlin, it likely will be announced shortly.
It is no secret Tony Stewart would love to have Greg Zipadelli as part of his operation at Stewart Haas Racing, perhaps as competition director. Zipadelli is under contract with JGR through 2012.
Stewart worked with his new crew chief, Steve Addington, at JGR, though "Zippy" was his crew chief. Ford also worked with Addington, so could he be in the picture as perhaps crew chief for the No. 10 car that Danica Patrick will drive?
In an interesting twist, SHR could begin to mirror a successful operation at JGR only he will be running with Hendrick horsepower, chassis, and technical support.
Of course we can't forget Penske Racing is looking to replace Addington, but they also need a driver to replace Kurt Busch.
Penske may promote from within for the new crew chief or not; perhaps Ford is on their radar now as a potential crew chief candidate.
Hamlin will be a title contender with a strong crew chief, as long as they can overcome the numerous engine failures that plagued the organization this year. Grubb could be the perfect leader for Hamlin.
The soap opera scenarios are rampant as teams gear up for the new season. Decisions will be made quickly for crew chief changes.
The release of Ford is no shocker. Team owners make crew chief swaps for a variety of reasons, including the information they may bring and the chemistry that may improve driver performance.
Perhaps Stewart was better able to deal with the release of Grubb because he knew he would find a new home at JGR—a place he is so familiar with.
Ford will land on his feet perhaps with SHR, Addington and maybe even Zipadelli. Change is inevitable in NASCAR and usually all for the best. Stay tuned for Penske plans and new hires at SHR and JGR.
Update 12-09-11: Joe Gibbs Racing has announced that Darian Grubb will be the crew chief for Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota.