[media-credit name=”Ed Coombs” align=”alignright” width=”235″][/media-credit]Prior to the race at Pocono, one of two tracks closest to his home state of New Jersey, Martin Truex, Jr. got the news that he would have a new crew chief, Chad Johnston, atop his pit box.
And even though this self-proclaimed Jersey boy is glad to be ‘home’, he is still a bit disconcerted from the news of the change.
“I mean it’s a tough deal,” Truex said. “It’s a tough situation to be involved in. This is obviously the first time I’ve ever been in this position where we’ve changed crew chiefs during the season.”
Truex seemed to feel most badly for his former crew chief Pat Tryson, who was relieved of that duty and will be reassigned within the Michael Waltrip Racing organization. Yet after 49 races together, while Truex feels a bit badly about how it all came down, he is still looking forward to working with Tryson in a different capacity.
“I feel bad for Pat (Tryson) obviously,” Truex said. “Hopefully we can keep Pat and hopefully he will stay around and help us make our race cars better because that’s the things he’s really good at.”
Truex, Jr. is looking forward to continuing to work with his new crew chief, a 31 year old engineer from Indiana. Truex’s new boss atop the pit box, Chad Johnston, grew up racing himself on the paved and dirt short tracks the heartland, driving open wheel midget cars.
“It’s not a big transition for the team though because Chad’s had a lot of responsibilities on the team up until now,” Truex said. “He was already in charge of the race car and the changes that went with it.”
“So far, things haven’t been a whole lot different,” Truex continued. “Most of the interaction about the race car has been between me and him for the past six months. So, that’s not a big transition.”
Because Johnston is so familiar with the team, the major new responsibilities include tech, taking charge of the team, and calling his first race, the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono, atop the pit box.
“The biggest things different for him is going through tech and making sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to,” Truex said. “And of course his job on Sunday will be different with him calling the race.”
“Towards the end of last year when we gave Chad more of a responsibility as far as overseeing all of the set up on the car and the interaction on the race car going between me and him, we’d already seen big benefits from doing that,” Truex, Jr. said. “It’s not that Pat wasn’t getting it done but it was more that Chad was really stepping up and it was time to promote him.”
“He’s really doing a great job and all the things that we’ve given him to do, he’s really taken them on his shoulders and done a great job,” Truex continued. “He’s worked hard for this and he deserves it.”
Truex, Jr. is also hoping that the crew chief change will position him to somehow get back into Chase contention. He also definitely wants to return to his on-track performance of earlier in the season, especially on the bigger tracks.
“We’ve had a shot to win a few races and if we just could have closed the deal, we could be in the Chase,” Truex said. “The biggest thing that I’m worried about right now is that our performance hasn’t been as good as earlier in the year.”
“We were running really strong, leading laps and running up front for a while but the past month, it’s been kind of tough,” Truex continued. “It’s really just the bigger tracks.”
“Right now some of these races, we’re just going to have to get through and get the best we can until we get our cars better,” Truex said. “If we could go and win a couple races, we could make a deal out of it. So, that would be good.”
The new driver/crew chief combo will be first tested as they try to get back on track at the ‘Tricky Triangle’ this weekend. The challenges at Pocono Raceway will no doubt include managing the fuel, as well as the challenge of shifting for the first time in many years at the track.
“It’s quite a bit different,” Truex said. “We were doing a bit of shifting just to see what it would be like and it’s different.”
“I don’t know how much it will affect the fuel mileage and it usually comes down to a fuel mileage race,” Truex said. “I did shift the whole entire time in Happy Hour just to get a good read on it and see where we stand on it.”
As the Michael Waltrip team heads into the summer months, the Jersey driver also acknowledged that keeping cool, both in the car physically as well as emotionally, will become more and more important. And no doubt, Truex will lean on his young crew chief to assist in both regards.
“These cars are hot,” Truex said. “They put a lot of effort into keeping them as cool as possible but at the end of the day, it’s just hot.”
“You just have to be prepared for it,” Truex continued. “You just have to suck it up.”
“I started to train this year but I don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be, to be honest,” Truex said. “I think it’s a situation that when you do this, you get trained for it. It’s kind of like an experience thing.”
“You get used to the heat and you don’t worry about it anymore,” Truex continued. “I sometimes don’t know how we do it but we’re able to make it through.”
With a new face atop the pit box, Martin Truex, Jr. will be looking to his roots for some familiarity. His family is not able to be with him this weekend, however, his girlfriend and dog are keeping him company.
“Yes, I am a Jersey boy,” Truex said. “I haven’t lived there in a long time and I don’t get back there as much as I’d like to but yeah , I never forgot where I came from.”
“I still love it there,” Truex continued. “All my friends are there and my family still lives there.”
“It’s nice to get back there and I’d like to get back more often,” Truex said. “Someday I’ll be able to spend more time there.”