LAS VEGAS, NV — For the first time since the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series season, Martin Truex Jr. has a new crew chief on top of his pit box. Cole Pearn unexpectedly retired this past offseason, as Joe Gibbs Racing promoted James Small to replace Pearn on the No. 19 Toyota.
We all knew that the season opening race at the Daytona International Speedway wouldn’t really be a true indicator on how the relationships between Truex and Small would go. I mean, there’s not much a driver or crew chief pairing to make up in terms of strategy or setups on a superspeedway.
But, their first true test happened this past weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. How would they fare together? The last time Truex raced on the 1.5-mile track he was victorious. Could Small keep the car dialed in right for Truex to continue his 1.5-mile dominance?
Unfortunately for them, Truex only finished 20th in the Pennzoil 400. While one can say that it’s not a great start between the two with two 20th place finishes or worse in their first two starts together, I don’t look at anything Small or Truex did together to place them that far back.
Truex, started off great. He came from the second starting spot and hung around the top five pretty much for the entire first half of the 267 Lap race. While he only led one lap all day and didn’t have the speed with the Ford’s nor the Chevy’s to win, he had a top five car when it was all said and done.
The only issue was, pit road.
During the pit stops following the second stage, Truex’s pit crew didn’t get his tires all the way tightened and he’d have to come back down pit lane to do so. That cost him a top row restart spot to now at the end of the lead lap. In turn, that pretty much ended his day.
Now, Truex was having to race in dirty air and with guys he was better than. Unfortunately, another car was blocking him which resulted in Truex getting into the outside SAFER Barrier on Lap 177, bringing out the fifth caution of the day.
He (Kurt Busch) kept blocking until I hit the fence,” Truex said on Sunday. “Then it was tire rub, blew the tire and hit the fence. That was it.”
When asked how things are in the first real test with Small, Truex said everything was fine. “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”
Truex, was happy with how fast of a race car that he did have early on. It’s just that incident with Busch to what hampered what should have been a solid day.
“Just unfortunate this early in the season. It’s nice to have a fast race car. Our Bass Pro Shops Toyota was really good. We were top two or three early in the first half and then the pit stop issue. We got back in traffic. I had a role on the 1 (Kurt Busch) car and he just moving up until I hit the fence on the front stretch. I thought we were going to be okay after that. Then just cut our right front tire down and pretty much ended our day. It is what it is, but luckily we got some good stage points the first two stages. We have a fast race car we can move forward with. The guys did a good job, just have to clean up pit road.”
Truex, had all of his NASCAR success with Pearn. He’s finished in the top two of the final standings in each of the last three years. 24 of his 26 trips to victory lane have also occurred with Pearn. Now, he and Small are hoping to get their first top 10 together in the next race at Fontana.