By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 15
Career Wins: 26
Biggest Accomplishment: 2017 Cup Series champion, Two-time Xfinity Series champion (2004, 2005)
Nearly equaling his win total from his 2017 NASCAR Cup Series championship season, Martin Truex, Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn were a force to be reckoned with last season, racking up seven wins in their first season in-house at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Riding a wave of 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10 finishes to go along with his seven trips to Victory Lane, Truex was able to make into the Championship 4 for the fourth time in the last five years as he looked to add another championship to his resume.
Despite a strong showing in the season finale, leading 103 laps, Truex ultimately fell short to teammate Kyle Busch, finishing second in the race to end the year with a runner-up points finish for the second year in a row.
“A lot to be proud of with seven wins,” Truex said. “Felt like we were in position to win at Homestead there and obviously things didn’t go the way we needed them to. It was an amazing season. Our first short track win, three short track wins altogether, just being consistently competitive on all sorts of different race tracks, and being in the mix right down to the very end. I think that’s a lot to be proud of.
“I’d say there were a lot of people that didn’t see us being one of the dominant cars at JGR in our first year and we were. I think that’s really special and that speaks volumes about Cole and all of our guys. We’ve got an amazing team and I can’t wait for the future together and seeing what we can continue to do as we build.”
While Truex and Pearn had amazing chemistry as a driver/crew chief combo, the No. 19 team was rocked by the news in early December that Pearn would be stepping down from his role as crew chief and leaving NASCAR.
Just 10 days later, JGR announced that James Small would fill that role in 2020, moving from lead engineer to crew chief. The 39-year old Australian is no stranger to Truex and the No. 19 team, having worked together with him in some form over the last three years, dating back to their time together at Furniture Row Racing.
Small will have big shoes to fill atop the pit box, but noted that he is up for the challenge that lies ahead.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” Small said. “Having the confidence of Coach, 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.”
“I know James well and feel very comfortable with him,” Truex added. “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.”
Given that both Truex and Small have worked together before and car chief Blake Harris will be returning in the same role in 2020, the learning curve for the group shouldn’t be as sharp, but there will still be an adjustment period for all involved to be able to learn each other’s quirks as they look to make it back to the Championship 4 and compete for the championship once more.
There is no doubt that Truex, the No. 19 team, and JGR as a whole will be tough to beat in 2020. The only question that remains is if the change in team personnel will be an advantage or a hindrance to the team reaching its full potential during the 36-race season.