By Brant James, NASCAR Wire Service
Crew chief Cole Pearn spent the first 35 races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season watching driver Martin Truex Jr. amass a bevy of insurance through playoff and stage points with his series-high seven victories.
All that security is gone now, as the Furniture Row Racing team that has been the standard for the garage enters the finale on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a four-car showdown for the championship. All Truex Jr. has to do is finish better than three former series champions — Brad Keselowski (2012), Kevin Harvick (2014) and Kyle Busch (2015) — to win his first title at NASCAR’s highest level.
Simple, but not easy.
Pearn, as is his custom, didn’t seemed concerned by it on Wednesday in a national teleconference previewing Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBC).
“Winning those races is what you do it for, but the bonus points side of it was just being able to make it [to Homestead],” Pearn said. “We kind of knew the format. We knew the deal, and we knew that if we were fortunate enough to make it, we’d be up against three guys straight-up. So I think this race is definitely different than any race at this point this year. But from that standpoint, that’s just a matter of going out and doing the best we can and I think having the confidence to know that we can come back from issues early in the race, like we’ve had in this playoff and rebounded and been able to close out wins gives you a lot of confidence for sure.”
Truex overcame a restart penalty and unscheduled pit stop to secure his most recent win, in the second-round elimination race at Kansas Speedway. His seven wins are two more than Busch’s total and Truex was especially productive on 1.5-mile tracks, which is the same length as Homestead-Miami Speedway. His No. 78 Toyota led after 20 of the first 35 races, helping him amass a series-high 69 playoff points that made him a statistical favorite to advance to the final before the 10-race playoffs began. Adding his playoff points to his total after each round made for a sizeable advantage in the first season of the new format. Truex won at Chicago, Charlotte and Kansas in the playoffs but was shut out in the third round.
Busch (Martinsville) and Harvick (Texas) advanced on third-round victories as Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski earned points transfer spots. Keselowski has three wins this season, most recently in the second round at Talladega. Harvick’s two wins is the fewest among title hopefuls, but his ability to out-do Truex Jr. at 1.5-mile Texas, and his proclivity for late-season heroics such as demonstrated in winning the 2014 title, make him an interesting factor this weekend.
Each of the other three driver-crew chief combinations — Busch and Adam Stevens; Harvick and Rodney Childers and Keselowski and Paul Wolfe — has won a championship. But Wolfe and Keselowski captured their title two years before the playoffs were tweaked to shape Homestead as a one-off final.
“It’s a different feel,” Wolfe conceded. “It’s all-or-nothing. Everyone’s equal.”
None were equal to Truex Jr. in the regular season and through much of the postseason. Pearn hopes status quo holds even with his insurance removed.
“I think it’s definitely different being straight up,” he said, “but at the same time, I think we’re ready to just go out and make the most of it and hopefully just take it.”