Just one day after the first race in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, there’s already been a crew chief change for one of the title contenders.
Monday afternoon, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Darian Grubb will replace Keith Rodden as the crew chief for Kasey Kahne and the team’s No. 5 Chevrolet for the final nine races of this season.
Hendrick has not announced what the team’s driver-crew chief alignments will be for next season, but did say Rodden is under contract with the team for the rest of 2017 and would be reassigned to other duties during that time.
With annual crew chief turnover typically running in the 30-40 percent range, there should be plenty of vacancies in the Cup garage next year should Rodden and the team part ways entirely.
Kahne, who will not return to Hendrick next season, finished a disappointing 21st in the playoff-opening Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, and is now ranked 15th in points among the 16 playoff drivers.
With only two races left in Round 1 of the NASCAR playoffs, there was a sense of urgency to the situation.
This move brings Grubb back full circle. As a crew chief, he won a championship in 2011 under about the oddest circumstances imaginable.
Tony Stewart suffered through a hugely disappointing 2011 Cup regular season and before it ended, Stewart told Grubb he would not be retained as the team’s crew chief for 2012.
Then Stewart had the most amazing run in playoff history, winning five of the final 10 races en route to his third championship, meaning Grubb lost his job despite being the Cup champion crew chief that year.
Grubb then moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing from 2012-15 before rejoining Hendrick Motorsports, where he had worked before joining Stewart-Haas Racing and Stewart.
Grubb has 23 victories as a Cup crew chief, third best among active crew chiefs behind only Chad Knaus (81 victories) and Todd Parrott (31).
This is the second major personnel move in NASCAR already during the playoffs. Joe Gibbs Racing swapped the over-the-wall crews between the JGR cars of Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez before Chicagoland, but the move backfired as Busch’s new crew was plagued by mistakes on pit road.
The Grubb-Rodden move almost certainly is not the last change to take place this season. Expect more personnel movements soon.