LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Denny Hamlin said he’ll use this week’s suspension of his crew chief as motivation to prove his car can go fast “no matter what.”
Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Darian Grubb and car Wesley Sherrill were both suspended through the Sept. 6 race at Richmond. Grubb, the crew chief, was also fined $125,000. Team engineer Mike Wheeler will fill in as the crew chief.
It strips Hamlin of two vital crew members during the stretch of the season he would be putting the finishing touches on preparations for NASCAR’s title-deciding, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Hamlin said the punishment could be a positive because Grubb can spend more time at the shop working on cars.
Hamlin’s car failed post-race inspection Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because NASCAR said it found issues with several of the covers in the rear firewall of the driver compartment. Loose or missing covers could vent the driver compartment and create more downforce for the car. Grubb and Sherrill, who also each received six months’ probation, are not eligible to return until the Chase opener on Sept. 14 at Chicago.
“Well, you use stuff like this as motivation to go out there and prove that you can run fast no matter what and you can run well,” Hamlin said Friday. “We were on a run there, last really month and a half to two months, that I feel like our cars were really starting to turn the corner.”
He also has confidence in longtime JGR employee Wheeler calling the shots for Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway.
“I’m with the guy that I’ve been with for 10 years. I’ve been with Mike Wheeler longer than I’ve been with anyone in the Cup series,” Hamlin said. “We worked together a lot and pretty confident in the job that he’s going to do, but on top of that then I get a guy who was my car chief for 10 years, get him back to the race track.”
Hamlin and team owner Joe Gibbs were docked 75 points apiece in the driver and owner standings. It dropped Hamlin from 11th to 21st in the Sprint Cup standings. But, as a race winner already this season, Hamlin is likely guaranteed a spot in the 16-driver Chase field.
“We’re pretty confident that we’ll get through it and by Chase time we’ll be a contender,” Hamlin said.