Cole Pearn’s play-action fake is the best in NASCAR.
The crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. got his pit crew members to pretend like they were making a pit stop with less than 40 laps to go. That got the attention of Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick’s crew chief, and Childers brought Harvick to pit road with 37 laps to go.
Truex didn’t pit. In fact, he waited seven more laps to pit. He then chased down Harvick — his main competition for the win — after he pitted thanks to his fresher tires and cruised to his second win at Sonoma in six seasons.
Pearn has proven to be the best strategist in NASCAR and Sunday was yet another example. He’s the best crew chief when it comes to NASCAR’s stage format and was able to trick the winningest team in the series into pitting early on Sunday so Truex could get his third win of the season.
“Pit this time Martin, pit this time,” Pearn radioed to Truex. He then told him to stay out and run nine more laps.
Here’s what Childers had to say on the radio after Harvick pitted.
Rodney Childers to Kevin Harvick: “Basically the 78 faked us out and decided to run 7 or 8 more laps. Kinda screwed us a little bit.”
— Geoffrey Miller (@GeoffreyMiller) June 24, 2018
The margin of victory for Truex ended up being just under 15 seconds as Harvick and third-place Clint Bowyer pitted again before the end of the race. They made up time on Truex thanks to their fresh tires but not nearly enough to come close to challenging him for the win.
“That’s all Cole. That’s all him,” Truex said in victory lane. “That was amazing. I’m cool with whatever he wants to do. I tell him all the time like win lose or draw we do it together. And I just got a lot of trust in him I don’t even say anything when he says pit or don’t pit I just do what he wants to do. Awesome job by him today.
Harvick wasn’t too upset with Childers falling for the fake after the race.
“Oh man we all make mistakes and do things split-second that might be right after it all happens,” Harvick said. “But these guys do a great job … We had a shot today and really the call was one thing but I think I was too hard on the car the first couple stages.”
Truex’s win means six drivers have visited victory lane in the Cup Series through the first 16 races of the season. It’s a staggeringly low number of different winners as Harvick has five wins, Kyle Busch has four, Truex has three and Clint Bowyer has two wins. While there are still 10 races to go until NASCAR’s playoffs begin, it seems fairly certain that Harvick, Busch and Truex will compose three of the four drivers racing for the championship at Homestead in November.
It’s hard to bet against Truex and Pearn if that race would come down to strategy over speed. The combination of driver and crew chief has been one of the best in NASCAR since they joined forces in 2015 and the two have only gotten better since NASCAR introduced stages in 2017.
The race didn’t feature any cautions other than two cautions for the end of stages. The lack of cautions meant there were no strategy changeups for crew chiefs, who likely entered Sunday’s race with a tentative plan based on where they were running as the first two stages came to an end.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.