cole pearn

Martin Truex Jr. ready to pick up where he left off at Martinsville

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If there ever was an event where Martin Truex Jr. would probably like to trade his sunglasses for working headlights on his Toyota, tonight’s race at Martinsville Speedway would be it.

The venerable .526-mile short track in southern Virginia — the shortest track on the Cup circuit — hosts its first-ever Cup night race under the lights this evening. It has been quite the anticipated event for the sport’s oldest legacy track, the only facility to host Cup Series races every year since the series was founded in 1949.

“It’s definitely going to be different, but I think it’s exciting to have our first night race there,” Truex said in a media teleconference. “Doing it mid-week, it should be fun so hopefully it goes over well. We’re all looking forward to it.”

Whether in the daylight or night time, Martinsville has been, is and always will be Martinsville. In other words, the racing will still be ultra-tight, tire wear will be ultra-significant and tempers are likely to flare up as much as brakes routinely overheat there.

“I think the biggest question for us right now is just the tires,” Truex said. “The tires are different and that can have such a huge impact at Martinsville.

“So, with no practice, kind of going back and building off of the things that we’ve learned there with our car and being able to win last fall, are those things going to work still?

“And, how is the tire going to change the way the car drives and what it needs to do to be fast? Definitely a lot of question marks there as far as that goes I think more so than just being at night.”

Tonight’s race – weather permitting (there’s a nearly 50% chance of rain in the forecast at race time, per wunderground.com) – marks the third mid-week race NASCAR has held since returning from the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus. It’s something Truex would like to see continue once things become more normalized as the virus is brought further under control.

“From a driver’s perspective, for me, I think it’s been good, I’ve enjoyed it,” Truex said. “The fact that we’ve had all one day shows and no practice, no qualifying has made it a little bit easier on the teams. I think I would be all for it.

“Everybody has always talked about how long our season is and it would certainly be a way to shorten up the schedule timeline wise. I think it falls more on the teams and what they are capable of. It’s a lot of work to prepare race cars and do all the things you need to do to show up to the race track and race.

“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. I think for the drivers, it’s easy. You show up and you race. I think you have to ask the teams more about how they feel about it and how many races could they do in a short amount of time like that.”

Truex is adapting to the new normal, per se, in NASCAR – namely, no practice and in most cases, no qualifying before races. But he likes the get in and drive routine.

“I feel that I can get in and fire off and go just as hard as I need to,” he said. “It’s different from the perspective that you really don’t know what you have, and you have to kind of fly by the seat of your pants feel and just react and make adjustments on the fly.

“There is no, ‘Well, I’m going to go in the garage and make a few adjustments.’ You kind of just have to deal with what you have and wait for a pit stop to work on it. So, it’s been a little bit different from there. I definitely feel like I’m confident in being able to fire it off into turn 1 as hard as I need to each week.”

After a series-leading seven wins last season, the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has yet to visit victory lane this season. But the odds look optimistic tonight: his most recent Cup Series win was last fall’s playoff race at Martinsville.

“I feel real close, I feel we were in position to win three or four already,” Truex said. “It’s just one of those things where we haven’t had everything come together.

“This past weekend at Atlanta, I felt like we had a dominant car through the first two stages, and just lost the handling a little bit there in stage three. Track cooled off a little bit. The car changed a little bit and you find yourself not able to track down the leader again.

“We’ve been right there. I feel like we had a shot at winning Darlington and the Coke 600. Those are the past couple races. I feel like we are right there, and we are working to get better each week.”

Some may point to Truex’s failure to win thus far this season being tied to still getting used to new crew chief James Small, who replaced the now retired Cole Pearn after last season.

“As far as the things with James, it’s a learning process,” Truex said.

But at the same time, the Mayetta, New Jersey native believes the transition from Pearn to Small has “been pretty seamless, really.

“We know each other and we’ve worked together long enough (Small was previously Truex’s chief engineer) to know that, and I don’t think that’s anything that is holding us up. It’s just a matter of putting all the little details together and executing.”

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Cole Pearn reveals post-NASCAR plans

Cole Pearn
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Three weeks after he stunned the NASCAR world by saying he was abruptly retiring from the sport, we now know what the next chapter of Cole Pearn’s life will be.

And it’s about as far away from NASCAR as you can get.

Pearn revealed recently to the Toronto Sun that he and his wife Carrie have moved to Western Canada and have purchased Golden Apple Holidays, a skiing and hiking vacation company in British Columbia.

“Not many times do you get the opportunity to do that, to leave when you’re at the height of your success,” Pearn told The Sun. “We were ready to go on to do the next chapter.”

Pearn was tired of being gone from home so often during the course of the NASCAR season and not being around 7-year-old son Callum and 5-year-old daughter Freya.

“I’ve had a ton of great memories when we do get time together, but that day-to-day life, they’re not used to me being there, so for me I felt like the window was closing,” Pearn told The Sun. “I think once they’re teenagers they probably won’t want anything to do with me. If I was going to be part of their lives, the window was now. I think that really pushed us to make the decision as early as we did.”

“I know it’s what we needed to do. I’m sure there’s going to be things I’m going to miss, but at the same time it would have been hard to keep going.”

Even though Pearn doesn’t rule out the possibility of doing some consulting in NASCAR in the future, his decision to buy the skiing and hiking business is something “I’m definitely at peace” with, he told The Sun.

The seed of Pearn’s new venture was sewn nearly a year ago while he was on a skiing trip in Japan with the now former owners of Golden Alpine Holidays, which includes four rental lodges.

“It just seemed to cross a lot of the things off the list of what we were looking for,” Pearn told The Sun. “We finally came to a point this year where we found an avenue that we felt could work and we were excited about and we just decided to act on it.”

“We’re either going to do this or we’re not, and we didn’t feel good about any other options and that’s kind of how we settled on our plan.”

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2019 Season in Review: Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr.
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Martin Truex Jr.

CREW CHIEF: Cole Pearn

TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing

POINTS: 2nd

WINS: Seven (Richmond I, Dover I, Coke 600, Sonoma, Las Vegas II, Richmond II and Martinsville II)

LAPS LED: 1,371

TOP 5s: 15

TOP 10s: 21

POLES: None

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Martin Truex Jr. acclimated well in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, earning a series-leading seven wins. That included his first Cup Series win on a short track in the Richmond spring race, his second Coke 600 win and winning three times in the playoffs.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Truex likely had the best car in the championship race in Miami. But a fluke on pit road that caused the wrong tires to be put on each side of his car resulted in an unscheduled pit stop in the middle of the race. Truex quickly got got his lap back, but he didn’t have enough to track down eventual winner and champion Kyle Busch.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020: After producing 24 wins and one championship over the last five years, Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after the surprising resignation of Cole Pearn earlier this month. His replacement will be the team’s lead engineer, James Small, who is no stranger, having been with Truex and Pearn for the last three seasons. Whether Truex can maintain his momentum in the new season with a new voice on the pit box will be a significant storyline.

James Small named Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief

Photo: Joe Gibbs Racing
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When Martin Truex Jr. greets his crew chief every morning, don’t be surprised if he starts off by saying “G’day, mate.”

One week after Cole Pearn announced he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing as crew chief on Truex’s No. 19 Toyota Camry, the organization announced Thursday that Melbourne, Australia native James Small has been promoted from Truex’s lead engineer to Pearn’s replacement as crew chief.

Small, 36, is no stranger to Truex, Pearn or the No. 19 team as a whole, having served in various capacities the past three seasons with Truex, dating back to Truex’s last two seasons with Furniture Row Racing in the No. 78 (2017-2018).

When Truex, Pearn and the team moved from the now-defunct FRR to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2019 season, Small came along and was elevated to lead engineer, helping Truex to a series-best seven wins, as well as 15 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes.

Truex finished second to JGR teammate Kyle Busch in the final season standings. After Pearn’s departure, Truex discussed what he was looking for in a new crew chief. He apparently has found that with Small’s ascension to that role.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” Small said in a JGR media release. “Having the confidence of Coach (team owner Joe Gibbs), Martin and everyone at JGR means a lot to me.

“I moved to the United States six years ago to work in NASCAR and I wanted to work my way up to become a crew chief. I’m ready for this and I am excited about working with Martin and the foundation we have in place on the 19 team with the group of guys we have.”

Truex took to Twitter to talk about Small’s promotion and his hopes for how the pair will fare in the upcoming 2020 season.

Truex also said in a media release, “I know James well and feel very comfortable with him. I feel like we approach racing very similar. He and Cole (Pearn) have a lot of similarities. It’s a natural fit and I’m really excited about it. I think he’ll do a great job.”

While this will be Small’s first time as a full-time Cup crew chief, he previously filled in for two races as crew chief for Erik Jones in the latter’s Cup rookie season in 2017 with Furniture Row Racing.

Small displayed his prowess atop the pit box almost immediately, leading Jones to a third-place finish at Michigan International Speedway and a 10th-place finish at Watkins Glen International.

Small spent that entire 2017 season as Jones’ lead engineer with the No. 77 team before moving to Truex’s team in 2018.

Prior to coming to the U.S. and NASCAR, Small spent eight years working in his native Australia in the V8 Supercars Championship. His first role in NASCAR was in an engineering role from 2014-2016 with Richard Childress Racing.

Later Thursday afternoon, Small was a guest on SiriusXM Speedway with Dave Moody on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Here’s a tweet of some of his comments:

Joe Gibbs Racing also announced that Jeff Curtis has joined the organization and will assume Small’s former role as lead engineer for Truex’s car. In addition, the team also announced Blake Harris will return as car chief for the No. 19.

Pearn also tweeted about Small’s promotion:

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Rodney Childers can relate to why Cole Pearn stepped away from NASCAR

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Cole Pearn shocked the NASCAR world last week when he announced he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing, the No. 19 team and the sport as a whole to spend more time with his family.

Few people could better understand Pearn’s decision than Rodney Childers, crew chief on the Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 Ford driven by Kevin Harvick.

While Childers is not quite at the point Pearn was when he made the fateful decision to step away, he more than understands why his good friend did what he did.

“Cole has always been a simple guy,” Childers said on the Stewart-Haas Radio Podcast, Episode 43, with Mike “Nook” McCarville. “He was in a position to do whatever he wants. He’s more of a family man than I think anybody in the garage realized, what his wife and kids mean to him is quite impressive. No matter how many races or championships you win, none of that matters at the end of the day. What matters is those kids and how they grow up and what their dad means to them.

Now-former NASCAR Cup crew chief Cole Pearn. (Getty Images)

“I can promise you, I think about that stuff every day. I’ve done this stuff for a long time. I’ve raced since I was 12 years old. It’s been 31 years, that’s a long time to do it, for sure. You just have to keep plugging along. Some days are good, some days are bad but you have to have a supportive family beneath you, and I feel he definitely had a supportive family. … He’s doing it (retiring) because of what he loves and what means the most to him.”

Childers identifies strongly with Pearn’s desire to spend more time with his family.

“You look back in 2014 and 2015 when we were first started this deal, I was getting home at 10 o’clock every night and I was here at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Childers said on the SHR podcast. “The guys still joke about it but New Years Day came around and I said we were working, and they were like, ‘Well, that’s a holiday.’ And I said, ‘It’s not a holiday right now.’

“If you’re going to win races and run for a championship, you have to work. As a crew chief, you don’t get those days off. … The only time I see the kids is at night. If things are rolling real good at the shop, sometimes I can get out of here at 5:30 p.m. Other times, I don’t get home until it’s 7:30 p.m. or 8 o’clock and they’re already getting in bed. It’s dark when you leave to go to work and it’s dark when you get home and you don’t get a chance to play basketball with them, you don’t throw a ball, don’t go to the tennis court and you don’t take them to golf lessons. You don’t do any of that stuff. I see that with my own kids.”

Childers and Pearn may have been tough competitors on the racetrack, but they also became close friends over the years.

“We’ve talked for a lot of years,” Childers said on the podcast. “A lot of people don’t know this but the first person I called for an elite engineer position when I was starting the 4 team was Cole Pearn. He was just getting moved up into a crew chief position (at Furniture Row Racing) and wasn’t sure if he wanted to do that or not, but he made the best out of it.

“He worked under Todd Berrier out there (Furniture Row Racing was based in suburban Denver). Todd moved back to Charlotte to work for Gibbs and kept things going out there (Denver). We have a ton of respect for each other over the years. His way of racing was really like ours, they work hard and try to win races. We probably like being beside them in the garage than anybody else in the entire series.

“It’s funny, you put the two of us in a garage beside each other, and we act like teammates in a way. At Homestead (for this past season’s championship race), we were beside each other the whole weekend and talked the whole weekend and I remember I needed a tool and I borrowed it out of their tool box. We respect each other, don’t rat each other out. We see things on their car and don’t say a word and they see stuff on ours and they don’t say a word. That’s a lot of mutual respect.”

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