Cole Pearn has been busy this offseason. Following the closure of Furniture Row Racing, the 2017 Cup-winning crew chief moved from Colorado to North Carolina in early December. He’s since been adjusting to life inside the walls at Joe Gibbs Racing, readjusting to life as a small fish in a big team pond for the first time since 2010, when he was with Richard Childress Racing. He’s getting used to seeing a different number on the side of the race car, the No. 78 having made way for No. 19, and there are more meetings to attend.
Have no fear though, the most important thing from Pearn’s previous life remains unchanged.
“Apparently the t-shirt thing is OK, until maybe Coach [Gibbs] sees me in it and thinks otherwise,” Pearn told RACER with a chuckle. “But as of right now, still planning on wearing a t-shirt.”
In all seriousness, things have been going well in the month or so that Pearn has been in his new digs.
“No real surprises I guess, just things you expect and being reminded of them a little bit more,” he said. “Way more support, obviously. Way more people. The communication is a little tougher with more people and that side of things, but the support side is overwhelming. It’s weird, you’re starting a new job but it’s at a place that you know really well, so in a way, it’s a new job, but in a way, it’s not. It’s a little bit of a different experience as far as the transition goes.”
Familiarity won’t be a problem for Pearn or driver Martin Truex Jr. To start, they are working with a lot of the same individuals they knew from their previous alliance with Gibbs. The difference now is that Pearn sees them daily and is more involved with situations right from the get-go.
“Being an alliance team, you’re a little further down the pecking order than what we are now, so I think that part of it is one of the positives,” Pearn said.
Plus, included in the shift to JGR were several folks who had been on the No. 78 team. Blake Harris remains the car chief. James Small, listed as FRR technical director, will be an engineer. Todd Carmichael is the interior mechanic, while Tommy DiBlasi remains a tire specialist and Gregg Huls the engine tuner.
Truex will also have a familiar voice in his ear when it comes to spotter Clayton Hughes. New on the team will be Drew Bible, who came over from the No. 11. He’ll serve as the shock specialist. And of those who were on the No. 19 team last year with Daniel Suarez, just three remain: engineer JT Adkins, frontend mechanic Dave Rudy and underneath mechanic Ryan Martin. On the pit crew side, Pearn admitted that group went through shake-ups.
“It’s actually funny how it worked out – I think three of the guys are off the 78 and then the other two guys, one is from the 19, and one is from the 11,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting in a good way, because I think every team goes into the offseason [looking at] where we think we can get better, and that’s how they restructured it. Again, there’s some familiarity there, so feeling like the pit crew side of it is going to be a strong suit for us.”
Outside of the NASCAR hub, Pearn and company at Furniture Row did things their way. Once a tight-knit little group, Pearn isn’t sure how much of his style, if any, he’s going to have to change now that three other drivers and crew chiefs surround him. But there will undoubtedly be habits likely to stick around, while also embracing how things work at Gibbs.
“There’s more inertia with the bigger team getting things moved and changed than maybe we didn’t have being a smaller team at the 78,” Pearn said. “But at the end of it, when you’re in the trenches on the weekend, it’s still going to be the same feel and vibe of what we’ve had as a team, and I feel like we’ll be able to continue on with that.”
A Goodyear tire test that took place last week out in California gave Pearn the opportunity to see how his group is going to work together. Not only were they going through the motions at the track, but also at the shop in getting prepared for the test. It was beneficial, said Pearn, to have the group come together and almost simulate what will happen during the year, and he felt everyone gelled right away. And he doesn’t see any reason why he and Truex won’t pick up with the No. 19 team where the No. 78 team left off, t-shirt and all.
“I think the biggest wildcard, whether we’re successful or not, would be the same thing if we were still the 78 – the rule changes,” said Pearn. “How that all shakes out and the style of racing; really nobody knows exactly how it’s going to go. I think it’s just a matter of whether we come out on the good side of that or not.”