NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … The Band’s Back Together

Did You Notice? … That the old band’s back together again? That’s the hidden story surrounding Cole Pearn’s suspension this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex, Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, was issued the suspension after the team was given notice pre-race for roof-flap issues in back-to-back weeks to open the season at Daytona and Atlanta.

After preparing a faux-appeal last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway so Pearn could be present for Thursday’s test and the race weekend at the 1.5-mile oval, FRR rescinded their appeal on Monday and left Pearn to suffer the penalty.

Replacing Pearn this weekend will be Todd Berrier. If the name rings a bell with FRR fans, there’s a good reason – Berrier served as the team’s crew chief from 2012-2014. A NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief since 2001, Berrier was at the helm of the No. 78 team when Kurt Busch led it to the Chase in 2013. Berrier also has eight wins to his name, including the 2007 Daytona 500 with Kevin Harvick.

Berrier and Truex have one year of experience working together. However, it wasn’t a good one. Berrier’s last season with FRR was Truex’s first, when the team finished 24th in points in 2014, recording only a lone top 5. The former crew chief has since served as Director of Inspections with Joe Gibbs Racing.

(Photo: Russell LaBounty NKP)
Elliott Sadler has exceed expectations in his JR Motorsports debut after a quiet 2015. (Photo: Russell LaBounty NKP)

Did You Notice? … Elliott Sadler’s hot start? Considered to be on the downward slide after changing to his fourth team in the last five seasons, Sadler was largely an afterthought in the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship. Three races into the year, he’s proving to be much stronger than anticipated.

Sadler’s 7.0 average finish to start the season is on-pace with his 2012 season, a second-place run in the championship standings. Sadler has finished ninth or better in each of the opening three events of the season, and in doing so sits second in the standings, just three points behind leader Daniel Suarez.

It would be hard to blame fans for failing to notice Sadler’s brief career renaissance. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars have combined to win each of the three opening events of the NXS season, leading 91.10 percent of the laps in the process. Still, hidden beneath the rough, are a few surprising stories.

If Sadler can maintain this level of consistency, he should find himself in prime position to go for his first NXS championship in the inaugural Chase. After all, with 23 races until the playoff and 12 positions up for grabs, it’s unlikely that there’ll be enough winners to fill up half the grid, let alone the entire thing.

Did You Notice? … Quick Hits Before Taking Off…

  • The No. 14 Chevrolet can’t open up soon enough for Clint Bowyer. Through three races in this one-off season with HScott Motorsports, Bowyer’s sitting on a 30.0 average finish, leaving him 32nd in series points. For reference’s sake, Bowyer is behind drivers like rookie Brian Scott, Landon Cassill, Michael McDowell and teammate Michael Annett. If things don’t take a swing for the better soon, Bowyer’s celebrity holeshot race win (and subsequent face-plant) in the Atlanta Supercross event might be his lone highlight from the season.
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. continues to surprise in his fourth season with Roush Fenway Racing. While he fell short of back-to-back top 10s, Stenhouse consistently rode inside of the top 15 on Sunday before finishing in 12th. Stenhouse’s consistency has him sitting ahead of some guy name Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and hotshot rookie Ryan Blaney in the points standings. There may still be hope for Stenhouse to be considered more than Danica Patrick‘s squeeze.
  • When it comes to Phoenix, there’s the field, and then there’s Kevin Harvick. ‘Happy’ has won five of the last seven races at the Arizona track, and appeared to be cruising to another victory last fall when some untimely rain gifted Earnhardt, Jr. a victory after pit stops. Considering Harvick has only one finish outside of the top 2 at the track since 2012, it’s safe to say he’ll be among the contenders this weekend.

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