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NASCAR-winning tandem splitting up after finale?

Tony Stewart drives during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Tony Stewart drives during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
By Mark Long
AP Sports Writer / November 20, 2011

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HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb celebrated in Victory Lane by hugging teammates, spraying champagne and hoisting a championship trophy.

It had to be a little awkward. After all, it probably was their final race together.

Grubb, Stewart's crew chief, said following the season finale Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway that he isn't sure if he'll be back with the championship-winning team.

Grubb said he was told after last month's race at Charlotte that he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012, a strange split for a team that won five of the 10 races in the Chase for the championship.

"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 beat and we wanted to prove that," Grubb said. "We just did it. Everybody went out there and kept doing their jobs, kept their heads up and didn't let it drag anybody down. We may have even gotten closer as a team after that."

There had been speculation about a breakup for months, ever since Stewart fired his competition director midway through the season.

In August, with Stewart sliding in the standings, he said his team wasn't worthy of taking a spot in the 12-driver Chase field. And, once he made the Chase, he didn't include himself on the list of viable title contenders.

Then Stewart won the opening two Chase races. But after finishes of 25th, 15th and eighth, he told Grubb about his decision.

Neither Stewart nor Grubb made it sound like things would change following the championship-winning victory.

"I know what his status is for the rest of night: I'm going to get him drunk," Stewart said. "Tomorrow, if we can just pick our heads up off the floor without throwing up I'm going to extremely happen."

Stewart said he will sit down with co-owner Gene Haas next week to determine the direction of the race team.

"There's a lot of things in the offseason and a lot of 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.

"The good thing right now is we're sitting up here as champions and I don't think any of us are really too concerned about anything other than having fun tonight and enjoying the accomplishment we had over the last 10 weeks."

Grubb left Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 2008 to join SHR as Stewart's crew chief. He said he has spoken with several teams about other opportunities, but doesn't know what the future will hold.

"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 can accomplish," Grubb said. "Now that we've done that, I guess we'll start talking. But I'm going to do a little celebrating first."

Grubb said he planned to stay at Stewart-Haas, but made it clear it was his decision to part ways after making the Chase three times in as many years.

"That's the reason I came here: to help build something special," Grubb said. "I think we've done that. We made the Chase all three years and had a shot at winning the championship all three years. And this year being able to pull it off, we've accomplished our goals and that's what we wanted to do. As far as timeline, I'll let you know later. We're just planning to celebrate, talk and see what happens from there."