It’s no secret the biggest move over the NASCAR offseason was Joe Gibbs Racing’s dual acquisition of Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn from Furniture Row Racing. The pair racked up 16 wins over the past three seasons and added a championship in 2017 — making them the hottest free-agent commodities in NASCAR toward the end of last season.
Kyle Busch, on the other hand, enters his fifth season with crew chief Adam Sevens and things seem to be trending up with the No. 18 team as well. The pair have notched 22 wins together, with a whopping eight coming last season. They, too, have won a championship together in 2015, which was arguably the most trying year of Busch’s career. The veteran’s road from major injury to major celebration cemented his pairing with Stevens as one of the best in the garage.
The big winner in all of this is Joe Gibbs, himself. The acquisition of Truex Jr. and Pearn can only help all four teams at JGR, but the question remains — with two of the best driver/crew chief pairings under one roof, who’s got the better shot at the title? NASCAR.com’s Jonathan Merryman and Pat DeCola debate.
Merryman: Who’s the 2019 favorite at JGR? In my eyes, it’s more of the same. Kyle Busch is the greatest driver currently competing in NASCAR at any level, and the addition of Pearn and Truex Jr. to the Gibbs organization will only elevate that.
Busch is just 33 years old and already has 51 wins at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level. Twenty-two of those have come with Adam Stevens since they linked up in 2015 — that’s a lot of winning in just four years. If you do the math, 43 percent of Kyle’s career wins have come in that short span and that doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Sure, Pearn is thought of as one of the top three crew chiefs in NASCAR and yes, the No. 19 team will be a force in 2019. The old adage is that “a rising tide lifts all ships.” Busch is at the top already and Pearn’s notebook makes Gibbs as a whole better, making Busch and Stevens that much better as well.
DeCola: This debate really is a bit of a coin flip. We know both of these guys are likely to make a deep playoff run, with the end goal of racing against each other in Miami in the Championship 4. We also know Truex and Pearn being in-house at JGR will be a boon for the whole organization in many ways, it just comes down to who benefits the most from it.
And I think we’ll see the revamped No. 19 Toyota with Truex and Pearn at the helm see the most advantage from it.
The increased success that Furniture Row Racing had with Truex and Pearn over the past few years was in large part due to their alliance with JGR. Truex went from having three career wins through 2015 (he started his full-time career in 2006) to adding 16 over the past three seasons with that partnership. And that partnership was one that, mind you, was between two race shops 1,500 miles and a few time zones apart.
It’s hard see how Truex and Pearn actually being in-house at JGR full time won’t allow them to set the bar even higher for themselves in 2019. Then you can take into consideration the fact that the team won’t have the distraction of an uncertain future hanging over it again like the second half of last year at FRR and the pairing’s shot at the title looks even more rock-solid.
I seriously think the 2017 champion Truex is a threat to contend for double-digit wins, and is, in my opinion, not just the most-likely title contender at JGR, but the title favorite overall.