Monday, August 7, 2017

Right Sides Only: Notes from the I LOVE NEW YORK 355 Winning Crew Chief, Cole Pearn

by Stacey Owens

Ardent race fans know that when it comes to the kinds of races that drivers run throughout the season, there are more than just the three that immediately come to mind. Sure, there's short-track racing and 1.5-mile racing, and there's even road course racing, like the kind we saw this weekend at Watkins-Glen International. But hidden among these multiple tracks is the kind of racing that few drivers, and even fewer crew chiefs, enjoy: fuel-mileage racing.

Cole Pearn, crew chief for race winner, Martin Truex Jr., talked about his strategy as the team entered fuel-mileage mode.

"I was like, sure enough, we're going to have all this plan, and we're going to get a caution at lap 52, and sure enough, we got a caution at lap 52. So that was that, and pretty much put ourselves in a fuel mileage mode. I think we ran hard early trying to get back through and get to the lead, and with the hope that maybe we'd get a yellow or whatever, but it kind of became clear that that wasn't going to come.
           
"I had to be really disciplined and stick to what we needed to do and let those guys go at times, even though maybe a couple years ago we wouldn't make that move. But we've gotten better as a team and we've stuck to it, and we won a fuel mileage race, which is a pretty big accomplishment for us," Pearn said.

Yes, you read that right. As many races as the No. 78 team has won this season, not to mention the astounding number of playoff points they've accumulated, the team had never won a fuel-mileage race until this weekend.

Pearn talked a bit about the team's success this season across the spectrum of tracks.

"Yeah, I think it's just a product of everybody we've got in our organization. Every week you wipe the week off from the week before and get back to it, and I think we feel like we're really in a position we can win every race and compete every week. So when you have that mindset, it's not like you're picking and choosing tracks to put extra effort in, we're putting effort in every week, and I think that's why we've been able to just stay consistently good and be able to contend for wins on a weekly basis," Pearn explained.




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Having a good relationship among team members is vitally important for a team's success, but perhaps the most important relationship in a team's dynamic is the one between the driver and his crew chief. At one point during the I LOVE NEW YORK 355, Truex had to slow down and give up the lead, a move he described as one of the most difficult things he's had to do as a driver. And in perhaps one of the most difficult things he's ever had to do as crew chief, Pearn had to convince him that slowing down was the best move at the time.

"He knew it in my voice that that's what we needed to do. It's a product of our relationship, the fact that you can be like, hey, this is what we need to do, and he's like, okay. We don't squabble. We don't argue. He knows that when we're telling him, that's the truth. He did it even though it was hard to do. He's a smart guy and knew the situation we were in and did the right thing.
               
"I think, like I said earlier, two years ago I don't know that we'd win that race, but he did things right today to get there," Pearn said.

Even as much success as the pair has shared this season, Pearn readily admitted that when it came down to the last few laps, he wasn't sure he'd made the right call.

"I was biting my fingernails. There was pretty much zero confidence. We knew we ran pretty hard early in the run trying to get through those guys to get to the lead and probably used more fuel than we would have known if we were going to run green the whole time. You start that run thinking, 'Oh, there's probably odds of a caution.' That's kind of how it goes here. If you get a caution you're going to get a lot of them, and we didn't get any. It kind of was looking that way and definitely was pretty nervous," Pearn explained.

He also noted his belief that this race was one of the best he's ever seen from his driver.

"It was one of his best for sure. The 18 was really good early on, but we knew we were the next best car. I think we got our car definitely better after the first pit stop, and for whatever reason, that first set of tires we struggled with it in qualifying, struggled with it on the first run for whatever reason. But for him to have the discipline to do that and then at the same time you're at a road course, you know, just saving fuel on an oval is one thing but trying to save fuel at a road course is a whole different animal because it's all about braking hard and accelerating here. Trying to do it here is a unique challenge, and for him to be able to do that and stay disciplined, I think that's a huge accomplishment for him. I think you look back at his career, how many races he's lost on fuel mileage, too. To pull it together and get to Victory Lane was pretty awesome." Pearn said.

As the playoffs approach, Truex remains a favorite to take home the Cup this season. He has more stage wins and more playoff points than any other driver. However, as fans have come to realize, it only takes a couple of bad races to knock yourself out of contention for the final winner-takes-all at Homestead. How does Pearn feel about his team's chances this fall?

"I don't think with the one‑race championship world that we're in, you can consider yourself a championship favorite. Really it's all about who wins Homestead. I think we feel like we've got a good shot to make it to Homestead for sure, but really, to say you're a championship favorite in a one‑race format is ‑‑ you just can't say that.
               
"I think, yeah, we're a favorite to make it for sure, but I want to look back on this year and win as many races as possible so if we blow up at lap 2 or wreck at lap 2 at Homestead, you don't look back on your year as a disappointment, so I think going into the year, we really just wanted to do as well as we could all year and enjoy it and whatever happens at the end of the year happens at the end of the year," Pearn said.

That's an incredible attitude to take to the track each week. No wonder the No. 78 team has a fan base that continues to grow ... and is anxious for that team to raise the Cup at the end of the year.

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Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover

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