He may have been instrumental in boosting Tony Stewart to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, but even as the confetti flew in pit lane at Homestead-Miami on Sunday evening, Darian Grubb confirmed that he's already been fired by the owner-driver.
"I was told early in the Chase before Charlotte that next year I was not going to be here," Grubb confirmed after engineering the #14 car to victory lane for the fifth time in the ten post-season Chase races. "I'm not sure what's going to happen."
The revelation confirmed last week's pre-race rumours that Grubb was on the way out
. He was told he was out in mid-October following a tense and difficult summer which strained the relationship between Grubb and his boss.
"I was frustrated many times this year as well," said Grubb when asked about how he had dealt with a clearly simmering Stewart during that part of the season. "You have to dig down deep and fight. If you are going to do this 38 weeks a year, you'd better be able to take the lows and highs and not get too upset, and just keep a nice even keel and just keep fighting against what you are fighting against."
Even though the team recovered and won stunning back-to-back victories at the start of the race, their form appeared to slip back again in the next two races and Stewart decided that it was time to pull the plug on the relationship. But far from wrecking Stewart's remaining six races, the #14 didn't then finish out of the top ten again all season. Stewart took pole position at Charlotte and raced to eighth place, ahead of a string of three more race wins including Sunday night's extraordinary win at Homestead that decided the title.
"We just kept fighting and doing everything we had to do every week," insisted Grubb when asked how he had carried on and achieved such success despite having been fired. "Definitely it was a little tough and strained but it honestly probably made the guys rally around a little more just because we all felt like we were a team to beat, and we wanted to prove that.
"It did not change anything, what the outcome was going to be. We fought as if we were going to fight to win this championship, and we did it, and now we'll just see in this coming week how things change."
But he revealed it had been touch and go that Grubb even stayed in post for those remaining races of the 2011 season: "I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, telling them, please give me the courtesy of waiting until tonight to see what we could accomplish," he said.
"Originally I always wanted to stay within the [Stewart-Haas Racing] organisation," he continued. "That's the reason I came here was to help build something special. I think we have done that. We made the Chase all three years and had a shot at winning the championship all three years, and now this year, being able to pull it off, we accomplished our goals and that's what we wanted to do ... now that we have done that, I guess we'll start talking
For the moment, Grubb just wanted to enjoy his and Stewart's achievement with the team in winning the championship and said that any planning for 2012 could wait: "We are just going to plan to celebrate, talk, see what happens from there," he said. "I guess we'll start talking, but we'll do a little celebrating first."
Pressed whether those talks would include whether Sunday's title victory means that Stewart might now change his mind and decide to retain Grubb at the team in some capacity, if not as crew chief for the #14, Grubb couldn't say.
"It all depends. We'll just have to do those talks this week and see what happens," he said. "Obviously this is what I came in to do as a goal, and now I've done that with this team ... We went out and earned this championship. Now we'll just see what comes out of that."
Stewart himself wouldn't be drawn on what was likely to happen with Grubb now that the two had bounced back to win the championship together. “There's a lot of things in the offseason and decisions that have to be made,” Stewart said. “Obviously, we wanted to get through this championship battle first, and we'll sit down as a group, obviously, this week and figure out the direction of our program.
"I know what his status is for the rest of the night," he added: "I'm going to get him drunk."
As news spread about Grubb's firing, the sense of disbelief was summed up by one reporter's question at the post-race press conference: "How does a guy who wins a championship, five races out of ten - just everything you accomplished - find himself without a job at the end of the year? The whole thing is just baffling."
"It is to me, honestly," responded Grubb.
But if he's really having to hit the situations vacant this week, then he couldn't ask for a better calling card than '2011 championship winner' - and it's hard to believe that he'll be out of work for very many hours before another team snaps him up.