NASCAR: Denny Hamlin’s crew chief returns from suspension

Darian Grubb was a welcome addition to the track on Friday for driver Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin is one of the 16 drivers who open battle in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup in Sunday’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Grubb, Hamlin’s crew chief, has missed the past six races while he served a NASCAR-imposed suspension.

“It’s good to have him back,” Hamlin said. “Obviously he’s been working probably more hours since he’s been away from the track than he does when he comes on the road. We have been preparing for this Chase for a really long time.”

Grubb was suspended six races, fined $125,000 and placed on probation through the end of the year after the rear wheel panels on Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota were found to improperly allow air evacuation in the trunk area.

The violation was found during postrace inspection after the July 27 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Everybody stepped up and did 110 percent of the job to recover from the weakness we had here at the race track. I can’t fault them for anything that happened with performances,” Grubb said.

“They had good runs, we had some circumstances outside of our control a couple times, but we were pretty happy with the performance.”

Grubb said he still feels as if he’s working from behind.

“Not being at the race track and working with the race team and especially working with Denny is something I feel like I lost a lot of ground on,” he said. “We’re six weeks behind now, and we have to keep that communication line for this 10-race Chase.”

Hamlin’s car chief, Wesley Sherrill, also was suspended for six races and returned this weekend.

Pit crew swap: Kevin Harvick said the swap of pit crews between himself and team co-owner Tony Stewart was simply a matter of experience.

“They do perform well. They just have to work on the consistency and a lot of that consistency will come with time,” Harvick said of his former pit crew.

“The No. 14 group (from Stewart’s team) has been fortunate to be together for a long time and have been through the championship stuff. My guys are going to do great, they just need time.”

Harvick and Kurt Busch were the only drivers from Stewart-Haas Racing to qualify for the Chase this season.

Earnhardt ‘nervous’ about 40: Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he is a little weary of his 40th birthday on Oct. 10.

“I’m real nervous,” he said. “I don’t know what to think about that. I don’t want to grow up, and you don’t have much of a choice sometimes with your age.

“You hit these milestones but I do feel physically and mentally 10 years younger than that. I guess that’s a good thing.”

How about retirement plans? “I could race another 10 years,” Earnhardt said.

Trucks postponed: Friday night's NASCAR Trucks race at Chicagoland was postponed by rain until Saturday following the Nationwide Series race. Fox Sports 2 will broadcast the race live at about 7 p.m.