When the season was still young and at only twelve races old, the season seemed like it was going to come down to a big three between Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Larson. Fast forward eight races and over halfway through the season, and now Kyle Larson has taken off and left the other two becoming nearly the lone favorite.
Denny Hamlin has been the points leader since the early part of the season, getting out to a big lead, and has yet to relinquish it to Larson, despite his dominance. Even though Hamlin has yet to win a race, and his lead is getting smaller each week, his performance has not waned, Larson is just on a herculean pursuit.
Truex however, has taken a significant jump down in performance and has been struggling since his third win of the season. In this eight-race stint, he went from an average finish of 12th to averaging 18.3. He has also only amassed 2 top tens in this time.
There was a clear falloff in performance, but virtually no reason why. His teammates have all been keeping up their own pace through the whole season, Kyle Busch in fact, has ramped up his performance in the last few weeks. So, why has Truex suddenly been pretty tame since getting his third win?
Chevrolet has been the class of the field and left Toyota and Ford in the dust. After Truex’s Darlington victory is when the Hendrick dominance truly began with six straight victories. This has left every team playing catchup, but Truex is the only driver who has had a noticeable decline in this stretch.
There is no apparent sign of why Truex is struggling or a change that points to it, but there is one factor that has seemed to be plaguing him for the last couple of seasons. When new crew chief James Small stepped up after Cole Pearn’s abrupt retirement, he came into an incredibly difficult situation. Truex and Pearn were a duo on the level of Johnson and Knaus, so when Pearn left, there was the chance that Truex’s performance would take a hit, and that became the case.
In 2020, Truex put up abysmal numbers compared to what we saw out of him in the last five seasons. Last year you could blame the pandemic and lack of practice time on their growing pains. At the beginning of this season, that seemed to be the case, as Truex and Small seemed to be hitting their stride by 2021, until all of a sudden they weren’t.
Before Hendrick and all of Chevrolet took off like a rocket, Truex and Small were hitting on all cylinders, but this level out points to them either going into a mid-season slump or getting left behind. They hit the season with the ground running, but as other manufacturers caught up and then surpassed Toyota and JGR – along with the rest of the garage – it seems that James Small may be struggling to compensate.
With Chevrolet’s ascent, other crew chiefs for Toyota and Ford have had to work double to make up for lost speed. Whether that be with “innovation” or strategy, experienced crew chiefs have found a way to not completely fall off to the level Truex has.
This is all just bringing attention to the fact that something is up with Truex and he is not the same guy we saw win three races to start the season. It’s easy to blame Small, but this could easily be something that gets remedied as the season goes on. When you look at a team and ask the question of why is there no consistency through the season, it’s more than likely with the inexperienced crew chief and not the champion driver who tallied up 27 wins in five seasons with his prior crew chief.