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Win Offers Relief To Truex, New Crew Chief

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 11 2020

Martin Truex Jr. picked up his first Cup Series victory of the season on Wednesday night.

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Martin Truex Jr.’s Wednesday night victory in Martinsville Speedway’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 provided him with his 27th career NASCAR Cup win, but for first-year crew chief James Small it simply meant “relief.”

“We’ve had a challenging year,” Small said after the tough short track’s first night race in its seven-decade history. “We had fast cars every week. Just things haven’t been going our way. Finally, tonight everything clicked. We have less pressure on ourselves now. It’s a big relief.”

Truex’s first win this season guarantees him a position in NASCAR’s playoffs. It also moved him into sole possession of 30th on the Cup Series all-time victory list, breaking a tie with NASCAR Hall of Fame member Fred Lorenzen and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“That’s amazing,” said Truex, who has now won at least one race in six straight years. “Dale, the last race I won, he texted me and said, ‘We’re tied for wins now.’ To be able to score more wins than him is amazing and surprising. 

“He’s the reason I got into big-time NASCAR racing. He’s the one that hired me to move south.”

Truex’s victory was his first in six years without crew chief Cole Pearn, with whom he won his 2017 Cup championship. Pearn announced his decision to leave the sport at the end of last season. Melbourne, Australia native Small, who worked closely with Pearn as the team’s lead engineer, succeeded the Canadian. 

“Honestly, he’s really similar to Cole,” Truex said. “Before either one of them were crew chiefs, they were engineers. I think, for me, my relationship with James and the way we interact has been real similar to how I had a relationship with Cole. That’s because we all worked together before. That’s really made the transition easy for me.”  

   Small, who noted he had about 250 messages on his phone from “people all around the world” by the time he reached his post-race interview, agreed he and Pearn possessed similar personalities. They are both “pretty laid back.”

“I’m probably a little more fiery than him,” said Small, who spent eight years in Australia’s V8 Supercars Championship before transitioning to NASCAR in an engineering role at Richard Childress Racing in 2014.

“I know how Martin operates. He’s not one of those guys (who) wants to see data and endless amounts of information. He’s low-key. I think we spoke on Monday, then I spoke to him before he got in the car. We text back-and-forth every now and then. I know other drivers and crew chiefs have a lot more meetings, a lot more information between each other. It’s not something that we do. We just concentrate on doing all the fundamentals, everybody on our team all doing their individual parts as best as they can. When it all clicks, it comes together and you see results like tonight.”

Even though Truex led 132 of the 500 laps, it wasn’t a flawless night for the Joe Gibbs Racing team which provided the organization with its 11th victory at the half-mile track. Like many of his fellow competitors he experienced tire issues at the race’s beginning due to the track having no rubber on it. He also was cited for a commitment line violation on lap 134.

“I made a blunder, I admit (it). I called Martin (to pit road) too late,” Small said. “He crossed the commitment line. That’s where our race took a little bit of a turn. We sustained a little bit of damage in that short run there. We were able to make some repairs once we went all the way to the back. 

“The next run we were absolutely terrible. Almost went down a lap. Car wasn’t great. We made a small change clearly in the wrong direction; undid that, made a few more other changes. The pace we had in that last stage was really good.” 

Truex finished the race’s second stage outside the top 10, but easily maneuvered his way through the field and into the lead for good on lap 370 to claim his second straight Martinsville victory.

Ryan Blaney, who started on the pole, fought back from a lap down for his second-place finish, 4.705 seconds behind Truex. He was followed by Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in third and fourth, respectively. Logano was the race’s top lap leader, setting the pace on five occasions for 234 laps. The top four finishers all have new crew chiefs this year.

Chase Elliott was the highest finishing Chevrolet in fifth.

All three of NASCAR’s national touring series are in action this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Truck and Xfinity races are scheduled for Saturday, while Xfinity and Cup races are set for Sunday.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 11 2020
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