cole pearn

Who has the edge? Here’s what the title contenders say

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — There are no Cinderellas in today’s Cup championship race. The four drivers racing for the title were the best throughout the season.

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch combined to win 21 of the 35 races this season (60%), including some of the sport’s biggest races: Hamlin won the Daytona 500, Harvick won the Brickyard 400 and Truex won the Coca-Cola 600.

As they enter today’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, each driver was asked by NBC Sports what gives them the edge over the other three title contenders.

This is what they said:

Denny Hamlin: “I think I possess the want. I can assure you there will be no other driver that wants it as bad as I do.”

Kevin Harivck: “I think we have the full attention of our whole organization in one car, and we’ve been there and we’ve done that. Even when you look at the other three teams, our group has been together a long time; we’ve been on the same team for a long time; we have the stability and the experience as a group within the same organization for six years now. So that stability and experience pays off, in my opinion.”

Martin Truex Jr.: “It’s hard to know. I mean I feel like this of all the years, I feel like this is the most up in the air because Homestead is such a different racetrack than anything we’ve been on this season and one of the great parts about this race and this format is Homestead, we haven’t been here since last year. The tires are different, the cars are different, you don’t know. There’s a lot of unknowns, so I think my advantage is my team and our ability to no matter what happens throughout the weekend, our ability to hit it for the race and know what we have to do and not afraid to make changes. Not afraid to swing for the fences. I think that’s our advantage, that’s how we win races. Usually when we win, we don’t have a great practice. We get together and we have serious conversation and the boys go to work and sometimes they hit it out of the park, hopefully this is another one of those days.”

Kyle Busch: Martin’s been really, really good these last few years with Cole Pearn, I’ve been good with Adam Stevens, Kevin Harvick’s been really, really good with Rodney Childers, and of course Denny’s got the new guy on the block with Chris Gabehart, so you know it’s interesting with the crew chief and driver dynamic the way that it’s kind of been but overall it just comes down to how you always work together and it’s anyone’s race really, so I don’t know that anybody has a leg up.”

NBC’s coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1:30 p.m. ET today. Countdown to Green airs at 2 p.m. ET. Race coverage starts at 3 p.m. ET. NBCSN also will have NASCAR Hot Pass that will provide in-depth coverage of the championship contenders at 3 p.m. ET.

More with less: Comparing records of Joe Gibbs Racing’s two best teams

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It took 13 races, but Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn appear to have their groove back.

Sunday’s Coke 600 saw the driver-crew chief combo win for the third time in five races after a slow start to their first season with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Before their winning stretch, the No. 19 team had only two top fives (both runner-up finishes) and 12 laps led in the first eight races. By comparison, their JGR teammates Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens won three times and finished in the top 10 in every race.

In addition to their wins, Truex and Pearn have led 445 laps since their Richmond victory April 13.

“Looking at it now, it’s going well, but it’s come with a lot of hard work. It’s been a lot of adjustment,” Pearn said Sunday of the move from Furniture Row Racing to JGR.

They now have 20 wins in their five years and 156 starts together.

“It’s always been an easy relationship between the two of us,” Pearn said of Truex. “I never, ever dreamt that when I kind of took over as crew chief that we’d be sitting here with as many wins as we’ve had together. It just still blows my mind.

“Seemed like we were just hoping that we could knock out some top 10s, and looking back what we’ve been able to do is great, and just so fortunate to work with so many special people on our team and now be part of a big organization with that many more special people, it’s really cool. People are everything that makes this sport and makes the team, so it’s really cool.”

Truex and Pearn claimed three wins in fives races once before in 2016. They also had stretches of three wins in six races in both 2017 and 2018.

Busch and Stevens have been together just as long as Truex and Pearn, being paired together in Cup since 2015 after two years together in Xfinity.

But they have 15 fewer Cup races than Truex and Pearn, a result of Busch missing the first 11 races in 2015 due to injury and Stevens missing four races in 2017 due to a suspension over a lug nut violation (Pearn missed one race for suspension in 2016).

Despite the fewer Cup races together, Busch and Stevens have five more wins, 11 more top fives and six more top 10s than Truex and Pearn.

While Busch hasn’t won since Bristol, he has remained stubbornly consistent. Busch has 12 top 10s in 13 races. The only blemish came at Kansas when Busch had an unscheduled pit stop late for a tire rub and finished 30th.

“We’re fortunate enough to have strong teammates that make us better and hopefully we can do the same for them,” Pearn said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve got some really tough competitors just in this building.”

Last June, after Truex won at Sonoma Raceway, NBC Sports took a look at his and Pearn’s record after 123 starts together and compared it to other historic and active driver-crew chief pairings at the same point, including Busch and Stevens despite them being behind in terms of starts.

With help from Racing Insights, NBC Sports has an updated look at the pace of Truex and Pearn and Busch and Stevens through 156 and 141 starts respectively.

Truex and Pearn trail their JGR teammates, as well as the historic pairings of Darrell Waltrip/Jeff Hammond, Jeff Gordon/Ray Evernham and Dale Earnhardt/Kirk Shelmerdine.

They remain narrowly ahead of the pace established at the same time by eventual seven-time champions Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus, along with Tony Stewart/Greg Zipadelli and Brad Keselowski/Paul Wolfe.

However, when it comes to Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers, Truex and Pearn have them beat only in the wins category, with one more victory through 156 races.

See the complete state comparison below.

After 156 starts together

Penalty report from Bristol

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NASCAR on Tuesday issued its weekly penalty report.

Two penalties were assessed from this past weekend’s racing action at Bristol Motor Speedway, and both were issued to Cup Series crew chiefs for Joe Gibbs Racing:

* Cole Pearn, crew chief of the No. 19 JGR Toyota driven by Martin Truex Jr., was fined $10,000 for violating Sections 10.9.10.4 of the NASCAR Rule Book: Tires and Wheels – lug nut(s) not properly installed.

* Chris Gabehart, crew chief of the No. 11 JGR Toyota driven by Denny Hamlin, was also fined $10,000 for lug nut(s) not properly installed.

Both penalties were for one loose or missing lug nut.

There were no other penalties issued.

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Joe Gibbs Racing announces 2019 crew chief realignment

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On Thursday, Joe Gibbs Racing announced a crew chief realignment for the 2019 season for four of its teams.

Chris Gabehart will take over for Mike Wheeler as Denny Hamlin‘s crew chief in the Cup Series. Wheeler and Hamlin parted ways following the season finale at Homestead. Gabehart spent the last three seasons as an Xfinity crew chief for JGR earning a total of nine wins during that time. Last year, he was the crew chief for the Xfinity No. 19 team of Brandon Jones.

Eric Phillips will also move from the Xfinity series to Cup as the car chief for Hamlin. He earned eight wins during three seasons as an Xfinity crew chief on the No. 18.

Jeff Meendering will fill the crew chief spot on the Xfinity No. 19 vacated by Gabehart and will be paired with Jones.

Meendering returns to JGR after two years with Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 00 car.

Ben Beshore moves from his current role as engineer on Kyle Busch‘s car to fill the role of crew chief on the Xfinity No. 18. This team typically fields multiple drivers during the season.

“With such a short offseason it’s important to start work toward the 2019 season immediately and we are proud with the teams we have assembled now, both in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and in the Xfinity Series,” said owner Joe Gibbs in a press release. “With Chris Gabehart joining Adam Stevens, Chris Gayle, and Cole Pearn on the Cup side we believe we have the right leaders in place to benefit our entire organization.”

Former driver Mark McFarland will become team manager and crew chief for JGR’s K&N Pro series and ARCA car. In 31 starts in the Xfinity series, McFarland scored one top 10 at Talladega in 2006 while driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“In addition, we take a tremendous amount of pride in our accomplishments in the Xfinity Series and are excited to have Jeff Meendering and Ben Beshore join Jason Ratcliff to lead our efforts there, as well as bolster our developmental program in ARCA with the addition of Mark McFarland,” Gibbs said.

Brad Keselowski: Late-race incident with Daniel Suarez ‘a racing deal’

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Brad Keselowski took to Twitter late Sunday to dismiss the notion that a late-race incident with Daniel Suarez in the Cup season finale was an intentional act to help teammate Joey Logano win the championship.

The incident occurred with 20 laps to go when Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Suarez were four-wide entering Turn 1.

Ragan was beneath Keselowski when he got loose and washed up into him, who then made contact with Suarez.

That sent Suarez into a slide, which cut a tire and put enough debris on the track to create a caution.

After the field pitted, Logano was third on the final restart with 15 laps to go. Three laps later he took the lead from Martin Truex Jr.

“Just a racing deal,” Keselowski said on Twitter. “@ClintBowyer and I were racing hard for position with 5th place points battle on the line.

“We Came up on 2 lap cars and neither of us 4 gave an inch. Hate that it caused a yellow but the racing was legit.”

The Team Penske driver added that he thought he had “screwed the 22 team” as a result of the incident and benefitted Kyle Busch, who led the race after not making a green flag pit stop.

Keselowski went on to finish fifth.

Truex finished second in a failed attempt to defend his 2017 title. His No. 78 Toyota lacked the short-run speed needed over the final run.

His fortunes were the opposite from 2017 when he capitalized on a late caution that involved Suarez and won the title.

“(Suarez) brought the caution out last year which won us the championship,” Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn said after the race. “This year it cost us the championship. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to have a bit of luck. At the end of the day, it just didn’t quite shake out.”

 

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