DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Martin Truex Jr. won’t be a part of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. For a driver of Truex’ caliber and one driving for an organization like Joe Gibbs Racing, the first response back to that is, how?
Well, there’s a number of layers in the how.
James Small’s Fault?
First off, you have to start with the surface in the fact that neither he nor James Small seem to be clicking the way Truex and Cole Pearn were. The combination of Truex and Pearn just seemed to click. Pearn knew the right amount of adjustments to make to keep Truex happy and the two knew the right buttons to push to stay competitive.
The teamed up in 2015. They made the playoffs every year including 4 Championship 4 appearances in 5 years. The final 3 years at that saw them finish first or second in points each time.
24 of Truex’ 31 career Cup Series wins came with Pearn. So did 70 top 5 finishes and 110 top 10’s in 179 starts together. That’s a 61% success rate of top 10 results between these two.
James Small took over in 2020. They’ve made the Championship 4 once in three years together including missing the playoffs all together this season.
Truex has just 5 wins, 30 top 5’s and 56 top 10’s in 99 starts together. That’s a 57% top 10 rate which is a drop of 4% in less races. The win rate is 5% compared to 13% with Pearn.
With taking a drastic step back, it almost feels like it’s time to separate. It’s not working. Truex has been animated on the radio this season with what feels like a lack of trust in Small.
Take Daytona this past weekend as a prime example. Truex was caught up in that Lap 101 crash but sounded like he put the blame to Small for putting him in that situation. It just seems toxic.
Contract Talks Early Cost Him?
Another layer to this is I wonder if a breakup is necessary. Maybe this was Truex not in the right mindset as he was mulling retirement or another year. That lasted all the way until the final weekend of June to when he finally made a decision.
Truex had 7 top 10 finishes, all in the top 8, in the first 17 races. It just didn’t seem like his mind is there and we know contract situations take performance out of drivers. Just look at Kyle Busch as a prime example.
Once Truex said he was staying for another year, the results improved. He had 5 top 8 finishes in the next 10 races which is 2 shy of what he had in 7 more races prior.
That’s why I wonder if it truly is necessary to break these two up. The results are starting to show with 5 top 8’s in the last 7 races run on the year.
Truex Has a Role In This Too
Another part is that Truex holds the bearing on some of this. He tried payback on Ross Chastain in Dover which dropped him from 4th to 12th on the final lap. While I get the notion he was pissed at Chastain and drove it in deep on the final lap to take 3rd, that maneuver in turn cost him 8 spots on track.
He missed out on the final playoff spot by 3. That move in and of itself kept him out.
So did the Nashville debacle. Truex was 4th coming to the final restart. The Toyota’s elected to pit while running up front in hopes of the new tires paying off. However, they should have known better. A track to where track position is king and not enough laps to make up for their tire advantage, it never was going to work.
James Small told Truex to stay out. Truex instead pit on his own. Instead of a top 5 finish, maybe even a top 2, he’d finish 22nd. That’s 18 points missed out on which combine that and Dover and you would have seen Truex way in over Blaney which in turn would have honestly made him a championship front runner with how good he’s running and going to 7 of these final 10 tracks a 2nd time this season.
Which is why I also wonder if they should blow this up or not when there truly is some success on going there.