While 2015 ended in disappointment for Martin Truex Jr., all certainly wasn’t lost for the driver and his underdog No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team with the outcome of the Nov. 22 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Despite finishing 12th in the race and last among the Championship 4, Truex far exceeded expectations in his second season with the single-car organization based out of Denver, Colorado.
Much of the credit for Truex’s renaissance goes to first-year pit boss Cole Pearn, who worked as Furniture Row’s lead race engineer before making his debut as a crew chief at the start of the 2015 season.
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Together, Pearn and Truex finished fourth in the standings — 20 spots better than Truex finished in 2014, his first year with the organization — and earned a Chase-clinching win at Pocono Raceway in June. Considered easily the biggest Cinderella among the four championship finalists, Truex and Pearn expected to be strong at Homestead, a 1.5-mile track with multiple grooves.
Speaking with reporters after the Homestead race, Pearn dished on the team’s surprising struggles at the South Florida track, where Truex never seemed to have the speed to contend for the win or the title.
"Mile-and-a-halfs have typically been our strongsuit and for whatever reason we just could not move the needle all weekend," Pearn said. "The race, it was what it was. We tried to make the best of it and threw everything we could at it, but it wasn’t our weekend by any means."
The rookie crew chief, however, refuses to let what happened in the 2015 finale put a damper on the season — one in which Truex amassed an impressive 22 top-10 finishes in 36 starts and ran at or near the front on a consistent basis.
"I’m extremely proud," Pearn said. "We won a race, we had 22 top 10s, we finished fourth in points. I mean, if you had told me that at the start of the year, I would have been very, very pleased, and the good thing is I’m really excited about our future."
Furniture Row has been a small fish in a big pond with Chevrolet — which is aligned with Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and other multi-car operations. Furniture Row should wield more influence as part of the Toyota camp, which has JGR as its only other major organization scheduled to compete in the Sprint Cup Series next year.
"We’re heading into a really good place with some good partners down the road that put this team in a spot they’ve never been in before," Pearn said. "So a tremendous amount of things to be pleased for, and I’m really looking forward to the future."
"Obviously, you’ve got this shot and you want to do more with it than we did (at Homestead), but at the end of the day, for us to win a race and lead as many laps as we did this year and finish fourth in points is a tremendous accomplishment for this group," Pearn said.