The transition for Martin Truex Jr. last season into the Joe Gibbs Racing camp from the closing Furniture Row Racing outfit looked seamless. He won a series-high seven times and tallied the second-most fastest laps and third-most stage wins. Truex also netted the third-highest average running position in the series.
But was it easy? Not quite. “There was a lot going on behind the scenes,” Truex says. “In the end, the results made it look like it was an easy transition, but it wasn’t.”
In particular, Truex described a substantial transition in process and culture. The Furniture Row shop in Denver operated with about 65 people. The situation at JGR’s headquarters in North Carolina is nearly a 10-fold increase with more than 600 people working in support of the race team’s multi-car and multi-series operations.
The difficulty revealed itself in a wholly unexpected way in December when crew chief Cole Pearn stunned Truex and the rest of NASCAR by announcing his retirement from JGR — ending a dazzling, Hall of Fame-worthy five-year run for the pairing. Together, Pearn and Truex earned four trips to the Championship 4 and won 24 races. “I love racing and there isn’t a better place to be than Joe Gibbs Racing, but I don’t want to look back in 20 years and think about everything I missed with my wife and kids while I was gone,” Pearn said in a statement.
Truex found out about Pearn’s decision in a phone call between the two just days after the NASCAR Awards celebration. While surprised, Truex said he completely understood Pearn’s decision. “You can’t give it 98 percent if you’re Cole Pearn,” Truex said in a December interview with FOX reporter Alan Cavanna. “You’ve got to be 110 percent all the time, and it just wore him out.”
As of mid-December, JGR had not named Pearn’s replacement — indicative of how surprised the team was by the choice for Pearn to hang it up.
“I don’t think you can replace somebody like that. I think you just have to find someone that can kind of fit in that role — somebody I can build that relationship with like I did with Cole,” Truex says.
Truex filled in one of the few remaining holes of his Cup resume last season when he won three times on short tracks, including a sweep of Richmond and his first win at Martinsville. Now, he’s eyeing improved performance at Daytona and Talladega.
The team will also look to show that it solved some qualifying issues present in the first half of 2019. Truex nabbed just two top-5 qualifying spots in the season’s first half before securing six top-5 starts in the second half. Truex’s stage success — just three stage wins before the playoffs — detailed a consequence of depressed early-season starting spots and forced him to leave early-season playoff points on the table.
“We worked really hard throughout the summer on that, and it obviously showed when the playoffs started,” he says.
Now the No. 19 team moves into another offseason of change. Beyond the huge question mark regarding Pearn’s replacement, the team will get more time to focus on ideas and process enhancements that can put them a step ahead of their competition — the strongest of which happens to race from their same garage.
“It’s tough. Those guys are all good,” Truex says of JGR. “All our teammates are good — their teams are really good obviously with Kyle [Busch] winning the championship and Denny [Hamlin] was right there as well. So figuring out how to find an advantage against those guys is difficult. But it’s fun [because] it kind of shows what you’re made of.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2020 Cup Championship: 9/2 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography)