Stewart's split decision

CONCORD. N.C. — Breakups are always complicated. You rarely leave on equal terms. It seems one party initiates the split. Irreconcilable differences, anyone?

That's how it went down with Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb last season. Stewart told Grubb, his crew chief of three years, just before the start of the Sprint Cup 10-race Chase playoff format that he would have a new crew chief in 2012. But then unexpectedly, something clicked between them, and Stewart won five of the 10 races to capture his third Sprint Cup title.

Oops. Was there a chance at a reconciliation?

Not really. Stewart remained firm in his decision, leaving Grubb a little perplexed. It was quite the shock to the system for a lot of people other than Grubb because the decision wasn't announced until the post-race news conference following Stewart's championship-clinching victory in the final race.

Awkward indeed.

"No matter what happens when you are in a long-term relationship — you can ask your husband or your wife — the communication level is what makes everything work," Grubb said Monday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour. "The more you get stagnant, the more you realize what you should have done in the past.

"Now we're both really looking forward with our eyes wide open."

The "we" doesn't involve Stewart. Grubb has found a new "love," if you will: Denny Hamlin. Grubbs was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing shortly after he was bounced by Stewart to try to get some mojo going for Hamlin, who stumbled last year after barely missing a championship in 2010.

"It's still weird to me," Grubb said of the breakup with Stewart. "To this day I'm not sure what exactly was going on and why the decision was made, but it didn't change my outlook on what I was doing for the race team. We didn't change what we were doing. We kept working hard every day and brought it home."

There's no time to reflect as Grubb moves forward leading Hamlin's team and trying to get the competitive fire going again. Although Hamlin did qualify for the Chase, he finished the year with only one victory.

Stewart will start anew with Steve Addington as his crew chief.

"We made that decision before the Chase even started and I think it took a lot of pressure off," Stewart said Monday. "We both knew exactly what we were going to do at the end of the year. … I thought that's what led to the success at the end of the season too."

As for Grubb, the biggest transition might involve his son.

"The hardest part is to get my 3-year-old to say that Denny Hamlin is his favorite driver," he said.

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