LONG POND, Pa. (AP) – Darian Grubb made his first good move when he decided to leave the Hendrick Motorsports powerhouse to join Tony Stewart’s first-year team.

His decisions as Stewart’s crew chief have been just about as good.

Once seemingly content to work behind the scenes at Hendrick, Grubb has helped boost Stewart-Haas Racing into an instant Cup contender.

Grubb was on top of his game at Pocono Raceway, directing Stewart to his first win as driver/owner with a series of instructions designed to help the points leader conserve fuel and show just how much faith they had in each other.

“You have to trust the guy that’s on that box making the calls for you,” Stewart said.

He believes in no one right now more than Grubb.

“We didn’t know how we were going to work together at Daytona when we got there,” Stewart said. “It was literally a week-to-week deal, and that’s the approach we’ve had from Day 1.”

Grubb had only limited experience as a crew chief working for Hendrick, but a pretty good winning percentage when he was running the show. He was crew chief for Casey Mears in 2007 and led him to his only career Cup victory with a win in the marquee Coca-Cola 600. Grubb also ably filled in for Chad Knaus, leading Jimmie Johnson to two wins during his crew chief’s four-race suspension.

When Grubb moved back to an engineering job with Hendrick last season, he believed his days of sitting atop the pit box were numbered.

Hendrick dominated the series with its drivers at least a threat to win every week, and he played a role in Johnson’s third straight Cup title.

“I was not planning to be a crew chief at all,” Grubb said. “I was very happy where I was at with Hendrick Motorsports. We were on top of the game.”

Stewart, a two-time Cup champion, took notice.

When Stewart was assembling his team, he wanted to hire some of the best people he knew to make it a title contender. So he went after Grubb with a simple sales pitch: Come join me and build a contending team and a lasting program from the ground up. That piqued Grubb’s interest enough to discuss the job with Stewart.

“It’s kind of hard not to get chill bumps from that and say, ‘Hmm, do I really want to do that?”‘ Grubb said. “He wanted to go out and he wanted to build a team to win races and championships.”

Grubb liked what he heard. The shot at facilitating the Stewart-Haas Racing team from the outset was enough for him to give up his comfortable job at Hendrick.

“It’s just one of those things that when you can read it in somebody’s eyes and you know how much it means to them, that you just want to be a part of it,” Grubb said. “You want to take that ride. It might be good, it might be bad. But you know at that point you have to make a change and try it.”

So far, it’s been all good.

Stewart has the points lead, a victory and a spot in the Chase for the championship all but secured. Not only was Stewart able to pluck Grubb away from Hendrick, but Rick Hendrick agreed to share engines with Stewart’s team.

“We have to give credit to the Hendrick engine department making great power, but at the same time giving us good fuel mileage,” Stewart said. “Without those guys, we couldn’t do this.”

The smooth working relationship between Grubb and Stewart has played just as big a role in the team’s fast development. Stewart had a sometimes strained relationship with crew chief Greg Zipadelli over their 10 years together at Joe Gibbs Racing, but they put their differences aside to win 32 races and two championships together. Grubb hasn’t yet run into any rough patches with the fiery Stewart – just nothing but success.

“There’s something to be said when Tony walks into the shop and he has that confidence,” Grubb said. “He pats everybody on the back. They know he’s back and putting everything he’s got into it.”

Having the right crew chief in Grubb hasn’t hurt either.

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