LONG POND, Pa. — For all the planning, there was nothing crew chief Cole Pearn could do about the traffic.
Focused on a win — Pearn pitted Martin Truex Jr. before the end of Stage 2 even though Truex was leading — Pearn thought he had the right strategy Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Instead, Truex finished third to winner Kyle Busch and runner-up Kevin Harvick.
When Truex exited pit road after making his final stop on Lap 126, he returned to the track behind Denny Hamlin, who had pitted a lap earlier. Both ran into heavy traffic.
“We were in a good spot there,’’ Truex said. “We proceeded to catch lapped traffic in every single wrong place possible. That ultimately cost us second.’’
Truex got bottled in traffic a few laps later. That allowed Harvick to pass.
Busch pitted from the lead on Lap 135. Crew chief Adam Stevens said he kept Busch on track longer to ensure that traffic wouldn’t be an issue when Busch exited pit road. That allowed Busch to catch the leaders.
“I think the key for him was staying out there and then having clean air on old tires,’’ Hamlin said of Busch. “He was running good times, 52.5s or so. We come out on new tires where we should be running 51-somethings, but we’re running 53s in the pack. We didn’t get any benefit from our new tires, so when he comes back out, and has the new tires and clean air, you see what happened there, he was able to maneuver pretty easily.’’
Said Truex: “When (Busch) got to us, we were all half used up. He still had really good tires because he was in clean air the whole time.’’
Pearn’s strategy was partially set when he pitted Truex on Lap 97 — three laps before the end of Stage 2.
“Five (playoff) points is a lot better than one bonus point,’’ Pearn said for the decision.
Pearn said it also helped that Kyle Larson, who is second in the points to Truex, had problems earlier in the race and was due for a poor finish (33rd). Knowing that Larson wasn’t going to gain any points made it easier for Pearn to make the call and give up the one playoff point and 10 stage points for winning that stage. Truex has an 85-point lead on Larson in the season standings with five races left until the playoffs begin.
That set Pearn for the next stop. Then Hamlin pitted.
“Our original plan was to split the run like (Busch) did,’’ Pearn said. “We were ready for whatever. We were going to let everybody behind us dictate what we did. I thought (Busch) was going to come too (with Hamlin). It was just a scenario you didn’t want to be way off strategy to everybody. Didn’t quite anticipate hitting the lapped traffic as bad as we did. And we hit them like every corner.’’
While traffic didn’t go Truex’s way, pit road wasn’t an issue. Truex raced with new front tire changers. The team gets its pit crew from Joe Gibbs Racing, which suspended Truex’s tire changers for an incident on pit road with Stevens last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Pearn said he was pleased with the how new front tire changer John Royer and new rear tire changer Kip Wolfmier performed.
“They did good,’’ Pearn said. “The first (stop), they hung a lug (nut) but then after that they settled in. For coming together as a group you couldn’t have asked for them to have done any better. I’m proud of them.’’