Darian Grubb will attempt to win his second championship this weekend, and just like his 2011 title run with Tony Stewart, the crew chief could be paired with a different driver next season.
Grubb was informed midway through the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship that Stewart was not bringing him back the next year. The duo went on to win the title and Grubb began his search for a new job the very next day.
He landed at Joe Gibbs Racing with Denny Hamlin, and the No. 11 team goes to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend racing for the championship. Hamlin is one of four drivers in the championship finale.
Team owner Joe Gibbs has said for several months there could be lineup changes at JGR next season as Carl Edwards comes on board in a new fourth team. It means Grubb's position with Hamlin isn't certain, although he cautioned to take a wait-and-see approach until after Sunday's race.
"We have had talks internally about what next year's plans are, but there's nothing that's ready to be announced," he said. "I'm sure winning a championship with the team might have some bearing on some of those discussions. We're going to wait until the Monday after Homestead to even think about that stuff."
Grubb has 21 victories with Hamlin and Stewart, and the 2006 Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson in a substitute role for suspended crew chief Chad Knaus. This year's success has come in NASCAR's new elimination-format Chase, in which Hamlin has advanced through the first three rounds despite a mediocre regular season.
Hamlin has just one win this year and seven top-five finishes, which could have sparked discussions for a crew chief change at the end of the season.
No matter what happens, Grubb said this time isn't anything like 2011 because he knows he'll be at Gibbs next year. Four seasons ago, he wasn't sure where he'd be working after the finale.
"I'm still going to do the same effort and the same work that I do every week regardless of who I am working for," Grubb said. "If it is Denny again next year, we're going to try to win two in a row. If it's for somebody else, then we're going to try to win together."
EMOTIONAL CHILDERS: In the moments after Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag at Phoenix to earn a spot in NASCAR's championship race, crew chief Rodney Childers grew emotional during the celebration.
In their first year together, Childers couldn't help himself. Both Childers and Harvick left other organizations to move to Stewart-Haas Racing, where both believed they'd finally be able to win a championship.
"There's thousands of things that run through your mind at that moment, how you got to where you're at, how many people helped you get there," Childers said. "For me personally, I've wanted to be part of something like this for a long time. I've wanted to race for a championship, and I've never really had that opportunity."
It wasn't easy as Childers built his No. 4 team practically from scratch once he got to SHR. It meant long hours, dedication from his new employees and a commitment to building something they believed could be very good. He praised the SHR employees for sticking through a project that also included expanding the organization to a fourth car for Kurt Busch.
"I really expected people to work a couple months and realize how bad it was and turn around and walk out the door," he said. "Really nobody ever gave up, and just thinking about all that and how far we've come and how important of a race it is ... the more I thought about it, the worse I got."
GORDON'S FAITH: This will be Todd Gordon's second appearance in the Chase, which ranks him only behind one-time winner Darian Grubb in crew chief championship experience.
His driver, Joey Logano, is the least experienced of the four finalists in high-pressure situations or racing for championships. Logano has eight career victories — five of them this season — and has never finished higher than eighth in the standings.
Gordon doesn't believe that will work against the 24-year-old driver; Logano is the youngest in the field.
"If you look at the performance that Joey is able to give on every restart that we see, if you look at what he's able to do on the last run of every race, and the ability to maximize points and positions ... it's been exceptionally good," Gordon said.
Harvick has been to Homestead mathematically eligible to win the title, and has victories at the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. Hamlin lost the 2010 title in the finale, and Ryan Newman also has scored big wins at Daytona and Indianapolis.
Logano, in his sixth season, doesn't have the same resume. But Gordon believes none of it matters in this format, which will give the title to the highest finishing driver on Sunday.
"Yes, he's young and he's never been through this race, but I don't think anybody has been through this race," Gordon said.
LAMBERT-TESTING: NASCAR let teams decide where they wanted to test this season, and Luke Lambert was the only championship-eligible crew chief not to take his driver to Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Richard Childress Racing's No. 31 team instead focused on tracks earlier in the 10-race Chase. That's because Ryan Newman, as the last seed in the 16-driver field, would have to be good early to avoid elimination through the first three rounds.
The decision paid off as Newman quietly moved through each round despite being winless on the season.
Goodyear held a tire test at Homestead last month in which each organization was able to send one driver. So Lambert knew he'd get testing data from RCR and from a team it is aligned with.
"I feel like we're poised in a good position to perform based on the testing that we did," he said.