Martin Truex Jr. had the skills. Crew chief Cole Pearn had the strategy. Add them both together and you get a dominating Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at Sonoma Raceway.
Truex cruised to victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 Sunday (June 24) after his strategy to pit later in Stage 3 worked perfectly. Rivals Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer from Stewart-Haas Racing had the speed to keep up with the No. 78 car but were burned by pitting earlier.
Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, “faked out” the other teams by calling off Truex once the SHR duo decided to pit. The No. 78 then stayed out on older tires, pitted later in the cycle and had the freshest rubber to win.
Wow, great report from @ReganSmith: He reports Cole Pearn was telling Truex to pit and 78 crew had team on the wall, and it may have baited the 4 car into pitting.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) June 24, 2018
“We knew we were going to do one stop, that was kind of our plan,” crew chief Cole Pearn said. “We needed them to pit earlier for them to work out. Everybody’s so good it sometimes takes something different to pull one out.”
From that point on, Harvick and Bowyer were playing catch-up. Crew chief Rodney Childers pushed Harvick to pit road an extra time (his teammate followed) in case a caution came out on Truex. But no yellows came after the end of Stage 2 and the No. 4 could only battle back to second, coming home some 11-plus seconds behind the race winner.
“The call was one thing, but I think I was too hard on the car in the first couple stages,” Harvick said. “It never really came around there at the end of the race.”
The victory gives Truex three in the last 11 road course events, more than any other driver. He only trails Kyle Busch (four) with the most wins among active drivers at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The speed here bodes well for the No. 78 with the addition of the Charlotte Roval this fall, the first time NASCAR will be making right turns during the playoffs.
Bowyer, who won here in 2012 wound up third. It’s the second straight top-three result for a driver who’s surging into title contention.
“No matter how you finish, it’s always fun coming up here,” Bowyer said. “But we just came up a little short.”
Road course specialists from smaller teams, often successful at Sonoma, couldn’t stay near the front. AJ Allmendinger, who had a top-five qualifying effort won the first stage but blew his engine after missing a shift midway through Stage 2.
“I haven’t missed a shift on a road course in 10 years,” he said afterwards. “It’s on me. I let everybody down.”
The ‘Dinger wound up dead last (38th) for his fourth finish outside the top 35 in his last five Sonoma races. Fellow Chevy driver Jamie McMurray (oil pump) also failed to finish due to mechanical problems.
Different pit strategy did allow some underdogs to steal stage points early in the race. Harvick and several other contenders pit three laps before the end of Stage 1, handing the victory to Allmendinger. Then, in Stage 2, their late stops gifted the win to Denny Hamlin. Among the top 10 finishers in those stages were Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher and Kasey Kahne.
Kurt Busch ran sixth at the end of the 110-lap race, running consistently inside the top 10 all race long. Erik Jones was seventh followed by Aric Almirola for his first career top-10 finish on a road course. Bowman and Hamlin rounded out the top 10, while Jimmie Johnson was 11th after last-lap contact spun out Daniel Suarez ahead of him. Suarez fell back to 15th.
Only 21 cars wound up on the lead lap with a race that had just three cautions. William Byron (25th) was the highest-finishing rookie.