A Wee Bit of Gamesmanship

Martin Truex Jr., en route to victory. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 25, 2018, 10:49 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The widely anticipated road race in Sonoma, California, on Sunday was compelling, if not notably exciting. For once, the high-speed chess was in neither Daytona Beach, Florida, nor Talladega, Alabama.

Martin Truex Jr., the reigning Monster Energy Cup champion, won the Toyota/Save Mart 350, measured in kilometers as opposed to its 218.9 miles. Truex’s canny crew chief, Cole Pearn, was its mastermind.

Watching Pearn’s cool head in action made me think of Bugs Bunny. As Elmer Fudd might say, Pearn was the race’s “wascally wabbit.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Not only did Pearn set Truex’s tactics. He induced those of his pursuers. Pearn pulled a faster one Truex’s Toyota, which was plenty fast on its own. Pearn’s educated guess was that there would be no fourth caution flag. He played the percentages, which, in fact, won the race for Truex.

The method was in the messaging. The messaging was, uh, pit this lap, pit this lap, pit this lap … uh, don’t pit. Other teams own these instruments known as scanners. Many of the fans own or rent scanners. Television monitors these scanners. They all thought Truex was going to pit right up until … he didn’t.

To make a long story, described in detail in many other places, short, Kevin Harvick, who was leading, pitted with 37 laps to go. In part, this was because Truex’s crew was apparently going to do the same. Tires were placed on the wall. Crewmen gritted their teeth in apparent anticipation. Once the Fords of Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer – and many others – pitted, Cole instructed Truex to wait nine more laps.

If there had been a late caution flag, Harvick or Bowyer, may have won. There wasn’t, and they didn’t. Truex’s Toyota crossed the finish line 10.53 seconds before Harvick. TV announcers spent a lot time making remarks such as, “Hey, Truex is way ahead, but there’s a hell of a battle for 11th!”

The winner had to gloat a little.

“Yeah, we’re in California,” Truex said. “They went to acting school this week. They were in L.A. for a couple days durig the off weekend learning how to do screenplays and such.”

Perhaps you’ve seen a rerun of the Perry Mason episode, “The Case of the Simulated Stop.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Truex pronounced himself guileless and obedient to his tactical master, Pearn.

“I just drove the car,” Truex said. “That’s what I do. Cole and I have a great relationship. I never question him when he’s calling races. … So, yeah, he told me to pit, and I was, like, okay, I’m going to pit, and then he said, don’t pit, so I’m, like, fine, I’m just going to stay out.”

“It was a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of call,” Joe Garone, the Furniture Row president, said.

“I think you’ve got to take the opportunities when they present themselves,” Pearn said.

For once, Wile E. Coyote really was, in fact, “a super genius,” and the Roadrunner ran off the cliff.


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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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