NASCAR cham­pion Truex, Pearn head to Gibbs

Cham­pi­onship driver and crew chief move to No. 19 Toy­ota in NASCAR Cup Series

The Progress-Index - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR cham­pion Martin Truex Jr. and his crew chief will move to Joe Gibbs Rac­ing next sea­son to re­main in the Toy­ota or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter their race team folds in two weeks.

Truex won his first Cup ti­tle last year driv­ing for Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing. Bar­ney Visser had funded the team out of pocket for most of its ex­is­tence but re­ceived re­lief help the last few sea­sons from spon­sor­ship.

When the pri­mary spon­sor of the No. 78 de­cided to leave NASCAR and Visser couldn’t find a re­place­ment, the owner de­cided to close be­cause he found it too ex­pen­sive to field a cham­pi­onship-con­tend­ing team with­out out­side fund­ing.

Truex will re­place Daniel Suarez as driver of the No. 19 team. Spon­sor­ship was not an­nounced.

“Any­time you have an op­por­tu­nity to bring two peo­ple of this cal­iber into your or­ga­ni­za­tion, it’s cer­tainly an ex­cit­ing time,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “They ob­vi­ously have de­vel­oped a chem­istry that has led to tremen­dous suc­cess, in­clud­ing a cham­pi­onship. We’ve got­ten to know them well over the past few years through the al­liance and hav­ing been part of the Toy­ota fam­ily. They both make us stronger as an or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Truex has 19 Cup vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing a ca­reer-high eight vic­to­ries in last year’s cham­pi­onship sea­son. A mem­ber of the so-called Big Three that dom­i­nated NASCAR this sea­son, Truex has four vic­to­ries and goes to Phoenix this week­end in con­tention for a spot in the cham­pi­onship race. Only one of the three slots for the fi­nale has been filled, and Truex is above the cut­line to qual­ify for Home­stead-Mi­ami Speed­way and a shot at de­fend­ing his ti­tle.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited to have the op­por­tu­nity to join Joe Gibbs Rac­ing,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously to be able to make this tran­si­tion and still be able to work along­side Cole (Pearn) is some­thing that was very im­por­tant to me. There is also a real com­fort level work­ing with the JGR team and I wanted to stay in the Toy­ota fam­ily.

“We still have big goals

for the re­main­der of this sea­son, but it’s nice to know what we will be do­ing in 2019.”

Pearn was pro­moted from lead en­gi­neer to crew chief for the No. 78 team in 2015 and has guided the team to 17 wins.

“I’m ex­tremely proud of ev­ery­thing we’ve been able to ac­com­plish over the past few years out of Den­ver and the move to JGR will make the tran­si­tion for 2019 an easy one,” he said. “It’s a great or­ga­ni­za­tion with a lot of great peo­ple and

a lead­er­ship team that wants to win.”

Suarez, mean­while, is look­ing for a new job. The Mex­i­can won the 2016 Xfin­ity Series ti­tle driv­ing for Gibbs and two months later was un­ex­pect­edly pro­moted to the Cup Series when Carl Ed­wards walked away from NASCAR.

Ed­wards’ re­tire­ment put Toy­ota’s long-term de­vel­op­ment plan in flux. Suarez had been ex­pected to suc­ceed Erik Jones at Fur­ni­ture Row, where he’d been stashed by Gibbs in 2017 and was

sup­posed to re­main un­til a Gibbs seat opened. Then Suarez was ex­pected to move into the sec­ond Fur­ni­ture Row car while he waited for a Gibbs seat.

In­stead, Gibbs had to bring Suarez up early while Jones drove last sea­son as Truex’s team­mate. Gibbs brought Jones in-house this sea­son, but there was no room re­main­ing for Suarez once Visser put his plans in mo­tion.

Suarez has 21 top-10 fin­ishes and one pole in two sea­sons with JGR. He’s cur­rently ranked

20th in the Cup stand­ings, the same place he fin­ished last year.

“We re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing Daniel has done for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing over these past sev­eral years,” Gibbs said. “He has made the most of ev­ery op­por­tu­nity from win­ning the cham­pi­onship in the Xfin­ity Series to mak­ing the jump into the Cup Series for us. We look for­ward to hear­ing about his plans go­ing for­ward and know he con­tin­ues to have a bright fu­ture in our sport.”

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