Las Vegas — Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn built a championship-winning team far from NASCAR’s hub in North Carolina, using their own approach in making a single-car organization one of the most dominant.
Then Barney Visser shuttered his Colorado-based team and the driver and crew chief were nearly unemployed.
“Out of a job? I don’t think so,” snorted Joe Gibbs.
Gibbs pulled them both into Joe Gibbs Racing, Visser’s technical partner when he was running Furniture Row Racing in suburban Denver, and the results haven’t changed at all. Truex won for the fifth time Sunday in his first season with the Gibbs juggernaut, and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway victory came in NASCAR’s opening race of the playoffs.
Truex is now automatically into the second round and rolling toward a spot in the championship race for the third consecutive year. Truex found very little upheaval in moving inside the four-car Gibbs organization, which gave him a lucrative new contract and full access to all the Gibbs assets.
“I would say that a lot of things have stayed very similar for me; I would say for our team guys and especially for Cole, things have been a lot different,” Truex said. “I’m very comfortable where I’m at. I’m very focused. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my team. I’ve got a lot of confidence in what’s going on around us.
“I think the feeling of just being more comfortable in my environment, being more settled, longer-term contract, not a single car team, I’m not worried about what’s going to happen next year. Been through a lot of things in the last couple years really.”
There has been adapting along the way, particularly for Pearn, an outdoors-loving Canadian who had a fulfilling family life in Colorado. The move to Charlotte, North Carolina, has been bittersweet and the summer heat had his kids asking “every day, ‘Can we go back where there’s snow?’”
But the Gibbs opportunity is too good — all four cars, including Erik Jones of Byron Township, Michigan, are in the playoffs — and the No. 19 team has not missed a beat since Furniture Row closed after last season’s finale.
“Coach and everybody at JGR put a lot of work into getting us there and make a home for us. We easily could have been out of a job,” Pearn said. “I miss Denver. I miss Furniture Row. I’ll look back on probably the greatest time in my career. It’s fun to be here and building a new path at JGR. … definitely it’s kind of crazy that you can go leave a team, you kind of go to the team you’ve been working with and be able to hit the ground running.”
The Gibbs group came to Las Vegas as the favorites to win the title with four chances in Truex, the 2017 champion, regular-season champion Kyle Busch, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and Southern 500 winner Jones. The Truex victory didn’t alter JGR’s positioning — the four JGR drivers have combined for 14 victories in 27 races — but its three other cars did not fare well in the playoff opener.