Being a winner in the first year as a crew chief is a rare occurrence in NASCAR. Doing so as a Canadian crew chief, well, that’s never been done before.
Then Cole Pearn came along and accomplished both. On a single-car team that had just one win in its decade on the track. With a driver coming off his most disappointing season at the Sprint Cup level.
Paired up with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing, Pearn has helped guide the team to an outstanding start that no one—including Pearn—saw coming before the Daytona 500. Now they have tied a mark set only by Richard Petty in 1969 with 14 top-10 finishes in 15 races.
Before heading to Kentucky Raceway with a new rules package, Pearn sat down with us to discuss his transition from engineer to crew chief, the Pocono triumph and his expectations for the remainder of the season.
Chicken Bone Alley: How would you rate the team’s performance through the midway point in the season?
Cole Pearn: I would rate us around an eight out of 10.
CBA: That’s pretty modest.
Pearn: OK, maybe an eight or nine. (laughs) There are some guys who have set the bar pretty high for us like Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. Those guys are the ones you’re trying to beat every week. It’s pretty tough to get to their level. We’d like to be consistently winning every week, so I feel like we still have plenty of room to improve. But I’m definitely extremely happy with where we’re at.
CBA: Did you see this success coming before the season started?
Pearn: To be honest, I didn’t think we’d be as close as we are (to top teams). But looking at where we’ve been over the last few months, I feel like we have as good a shot as anybody to compete for a championship. The Chase can be pretty circumstantial as far as having to be unscathed heading into Homestead, but I think if we can do that we’ve got a good shot at it.
CBA: How much different has your schedule been moving from being a lead engineer to crew chief?
Pearn: It’s not much different for me. I still have a pretty busy schedule. I’m still pretty hands-on on the engineering side because that’s my strength. I stay pretty involved in that and luckily I have a lot of great guys surrounding me to make my job easier.
CBA: Being a former driver yourself in Canada, how much do you still pull from those days to having a connection to Truex?
Pearn: Oh, that helps for sure. Growing up around racing my whole life you can really appreciate the talent level that these guys have at the Cup level. With Martin, I know he’s capable of competing for wins, and if he’s not I definitely understand what he needs. I put it more on myself to make sure he has the best product to get the job done. It’s on me to make that happen, and I understand that better as a former driver.
CBA: As a former engineer for Richard Childress Racing, how much easier has it made the transition for you with the Furniture Row partnership?
Pearn: It works out really well when you’re working with basically the same guys. It’s kind of like I never really left. We’ve just continued to build those relationships over the years and that made the transition to being a crew chief more seamless. You probably take it for granted some days because it just seems so natural at this point. It’s definitely a nice situation to be in.
CBA: Going back to the Pocono breakthrough. The team led the most laps the three previous races before finally getting that victory. How much relief did you feel know that you know you’re in the Chase?
Pearn: Yeah, it definitely takes a load off your mind. But we can’t take our foot off the gas. We’re really focusing now on getting as many wins as we can before the Chase to build on that momentum when the postseason gets underway.
CBA: How long did the celebration last?
Pearn: It was really just that night. We had a pretty crazy next few days with local media and we had to test Darlington that week and get ready for Michigan the next weekend. … That’s one thing about this sport, you don’t get to enjoy those wins for very long. If you get too caught up in the highs, you fall behind quickly.
CBA: What was it like to see the reaction around the sport from the fans and other teams?
Pearn: Yeah, that was pretty cool. It makes it more gratifying when you hear the roar of the crowd. We definitely didn’t expect that. Maybe they cheer that hard every week and we just don’t listen because we lost. (laughs) The respect that we got from our peers made it that much cooler. They know the position we’re in with the cards we’re dealt as a single-car team, so that respect means a lot.
— Cole Pearn (@colepearn) June 7, 2015
CBA: Heading to Kentucky, the big story obviously is the new rules package. How comfortable do you feel with where the team is at heading into this weekend?
Pearn: There was definitely some scrambling in the beginning. But whether you like or not, you have to prepare for it just like any other race. … We tested the package in Charlotte, and I really didn’t see how it was any different. Obviously it was a little different, but I think the drivers are the ones who have been pushing for it. I think it’s an ill-advised push. I think the direction we were heading in 2014 with more downforce makes more sense from a competition standpoint, but this is the path they’re on right now.
CBA: Do you feel NASCAR needed to change anything? What would you change if you had the choice?
Pearn: Whoa, I think that’s a tough call. (laughs) I really feel like the one thing that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is the reduced horsepower. It’s really hard to screw up in the corners and recover from it at this point. But it’s difficult to turn back from this now. The hardest thing for the drivers is they think this is going to let them slip and slide a lot more, but I think it’s going to do the opposite. With less downforce on the car, I think it’s a haywire direction they’re taking.
CBA: Moving forward, what are some realistic expectations for this team?
Pearn: The hope is to try and win more races. I feel like we should be able to go deep in the Chase and with the results we’ve put up so far there’s no reason not to think that. We’d like to continue to build toward the championship and be one of the final teams in Homestead standing.
Follow Chicken Bone Alley on Twitter.