If the new combination of Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and Joe Gibbs Racing ultimately results in a championship, let the record show their first laps together were a bit unusual.
When Truex strapped into the No. 19 Toyota for the first time Wednesday morning during a Goodyear tire test at Auto Club Speedway, he didn’t immediately drive onto the track.
Instead, Truex made laps around an empty garage so the team could calibrate a GPS system.
For eight minutes, Truex slowly circled a long, red-roofed building — over and over and over. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the strange start to his test.
“They told me to go drive around for a bit,” he said. “It was like, ‘OK, whatever, guys!’”
Truex eventually got bored and looped back to the Cup garage so he could buzz the members of his team, who were standing outside the garage stall watching the scene unfold. The crew burst into laughter as the 19 car passed by.
If there were any first-day jitters, they surely ended right then.
JGR allowed JeffGluck.com to get an inside look at the No. 19’s first test as a group, and it certainly didn’t seem like there was much of an adjustment period between the team members. That’s because much of the old Furniture Row Racing team’s road crew lives on, just in a different uniform.
It wasn’t only Truex and Pearn who joined JGR — former 78 team crewmen actually make up the majority of the new 19.
Car chief Blake Harris, engineer James Small, interior mechanic Todd Carmichael, tire specialist Tommy DiBlasi and engine tuner Gregg Huls were all at FRR, and spotter Clayton Hughes also followed Truex to JGR.
Meanwhile, aside from the hauler drivers, only three of the current road crew worked on the 19 car last year: Engineer JT Adkins, front end mechanic Dave Rudy and underneath mechanic Ryan Martin. In addition, shock specialist Drew Bible joined the 19 from Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 car.
“The core of us are from the 78, and we definitely have our little ways we like to do things,” Pearn said. “It’s funny — I’m still not used to seeing the 19 (on the door) because it’s all the same people, it’s the same sponsors (as the 78). But then you’re part of a different group. It’s got a weird feeling to it.”
Pearn started working with JGR on the 2019 roster while last season was still wrapping up, but he said many of the decisions came down to which former 78 personnel were willing to move from Colorado and continue in racing after FRR shut down.
The California tire test, despite being across the country from their new homes, was a boost for a group that otherwise might have rolled into Daytona Speedweeks still unsure of its chemistry.
Not only did the crew get to shake any winter rust when it comes to making changes to the car, but everyone got to bond as well. A team dinner Tuesday night at the Mexican restaurant El Torito following a long flight was the first real chance to get the entire group together (they went to Outback on the second night).
“Everybody gelled really early, and then getting to do this test and be on the road together before the season gets started has been really helpful,” Pearn said.
As for the test itself, nothing initially seemed abnormal.
“We’re going to run the black ones,” Pearn said, deadpan, while pointing to a large stack of Goodyears.
But it turned out to be one of the more unique tests Goodyear has conducted at a non-plate track. If the new rules package works as intended, all of the big ovals will resemble something akin to pack racing in 2019 — and everyone needed to get data about how the cars would handle around each other.
As a result, the three teams at the test (Truex, Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez’s No. 41) spent much of their time drafting together instead of doing single-car runs.
“Usually at a tire test, you’re out there by yourself all the time,” Truex said. “You go out there, you make your laps when you’re ready, you come back in, change tires. But running with other cars, you can definitely get a lot more information.”
Here’s how most of the test went for the 19 team: Truex would go out to do a run of 15-25 laps with the other drivers while Pearn ran up to the roof of the infield pit suites to watch. They’d return to the garage, where Pearn would lean into his driver’s window and say, “Whaddya got?” Truex, often animated with eyes widening as he spoke, would express his opinion of the latest changes. With no engine noise, other team members would gather behind Pearn to hear what Truex had to say.
Pearn said the biggest takeaway from the test wasn’t necessarily the newness of his team working together, but the new ways it will have to conduct business in 2019. Getting the car to work in a draft will now be more important than raw speed, so crew chiefs will have to find a balance between the two.
“It’s going to be hairy,” Pearn said. “The All-Star Race was short, and now you think you’re going to be four hours of that, basically being pretty chaotic the whole time, is going to be pretty mentally taxing. It’s going to be a lot more to deal with.”
Truex echoed that sentiment and said figuring out the rules package would be a much bigger challenge than figuring out the flow of his new team — which he believes is already in a good place.
“I feel like we’re already integrated into the JGR system and everything is going smoothly,” he said. “The question is going to be how do we make stuff better? How does that work? But with us as a group, so far everything feels like a little bit of a continuation of what we’ve been doing.”