For the past five seasons, Martin Truex Jr. has been one of the top drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series. He teamed with crew chief Cole Pearn for 24 wins (second-most from 2015-2019), one championship and four appearances in the Championship 4. In two of the last three seasons, Truex won within the first five races of the season.
After Pearn’s decision to step away from NASCAR, Truex will have a new crew chief atop the box in James Small. The Australia native was previously a lead engineer and has been with him in some capacity for the past three seasons. In addition, Jeff Curtis is back after a one-year stint with Chip Ganassi Racing to be the lead engineer for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 team; he had been on Truex’s title-winning team in 2017. Car chief Blake Harris remains with the team.
But will there be an adjustment period that keeps Truex out of Victory Lane for a bit with a new voice calling the shots, or will he just keep on racking up the wins from the outset? NASCAR.com’s RJ Kraft and Pat DeCola debate where Truex and his new crew chief will first find Victory Lane together in 2020.
KRAFT: Truex’s 2020 season should mirror something similar to his 2019 campaign. He did not record a win until the ninth race of the season, but then clicked off four in eight races. I think there will be a bit of adjustment with Small now atop the box, but the continuity of having Harris as well as Curtis back in the fold will keep the strong runs coming, even if they don’t result in wins.
I have MTJ’s first 2020 victory coming at Homestead-Miami Speedway — the sixth race of the season on March 22. I enjoy a good poetic story line and the Truex-Small pairing delivering at the track where Truex came up just short of championships in the past two seasons would be quite interesting.
Once he gets that first one with Small, I expect the wins to come in bunches with a notable Texas-sized drought (0-for-29) also coming to an end the next weekend.
DECOLA: I like the way you’re thinking, RJ, and I agree that it won’t take too long before Small and Truex connect on their first win, but I’ll do you one even bolder: The ’17 champ won’t even get out of February before landing in Victory Lane.
We obviously can’t rule anybody out for Daytona, but I’m more keyed in on the pair getting it done a week later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Truex is the most recent winner at the Nevada track — his fifth straight finish there of eighth or better — and also dominated this race in his title season.
To me, the No. 19 group put together the best full season in 2019, only getting stronger as the campaign drew on. Things were clicking on all cylinders the entire postseason run and I expect much of that momentum will translate over to 2020 as the rules package stays largely the same for intermediate tracks.
It’s reasonable to expect some learning curves or drop-off after the departure of Pearn, but if we’ve learned anything about the crew chief over the years, he doesn’t seem like the type of guy to up and leave without making absolutely certain that his crew remains in the best possible position to succeed. I imagine Small is immensely prepared for this opportunity and the transition will be pretty much seamless.
Expect Truex and Co. to pick up right where they left off and celebrate a win in 2020 in the blink of an eye.