By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas — For crew chief Cole Pearn, Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway couldn’t have ended any worse. His No. 78 Toyota, piloted by Martin Truex Jr. led a race-high 141 laps, but ultimately what appeared like a failed pit call by Pearn snuffed out what looked to be a runaway win.
On a lap 289 caution, Pearn elected to keep his driver on the track, but then changed his mind last second, however it was too little, too late.
“Our plan was to stay out and he called me in. I didn’t want to hit the cone. It’s just the way it goes,” Truex explained after the race.
Truex, aside from Austin Dillon, was now all alone while the rest of the field pitted for tires. Truex was able to fight off challenges when the green flag came out on lap 293, but after another caution period between laps 295 and 301, Truex was gobbled up by Kyle Busch on the ensuing restart.
“Yeah, I don’t know. The first one, we got away and I thought we were going to be fine and then the second one we spun the tires a little bit and the 18 was able to get by us. I really wish more had stayed but we had the dominant car and they know that’s the only way they can beat you,” Pearn lamented.
From there, Truex slid to a sixth place finish. After the race Pearn explained that being the leader on a late-race caution is not much of an advantage.
“It’s easy to call a race when you’re second. Not easy when you’re leading,” Pearn said.
Pearn found a silver lining in the fact that his car was stout, so stout in fact that it constantly built leads over five seconds all night long.
“We had a really good car, especially on the long runs. You know I think what was nice, those runs where we were able to string a couple of green flag runs together we were really able to build the lead up,” Pearn said. “We were just able to manage the tires a little bit better as the run went than some of the other guys.”
When asked to explain the feeling is like when you choose to stay out, when the rest of the field behind you pits, Pearn had a very blunt answer.
“Oh yes. It’s just like getting kicked in the nuts over and over again is pretty much all it is. I don’t know this sport, It always seems to play out that way,” Pearn anguished. “For the guys who do it, they do it. Just the way it went. We will have to keep our head up. Still a long season ahead of us.”
According to Pearn he was in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.’
“You know that’s just the fear you run,” Pearn said. “You could come in and pit and seven of them stay out then you’re running eighth and you look like a dumbass doing that. So that’s just pretty much how it goes.”
Pearn and Truex are still in search of their first win of the season. They were literally and inch away from winning the Daytona 500, but came up one one-hundredth of a second short. Truex also led 51 laps at Fontana before getting loose with help from Joey Logano, which sent him into the wall resulting in a 32nd place finish. And now the frustrations mount even further with Saturday night’s disappointment in Texas.
Image: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway