Interview

MTJ Crew Chief James Small on Early Title Favorite – “Definitely better than looking like a pack of losers.”

By: Ashley McCubbin

With Martin Truex Jr. becoming the first driver to win two races this season, it easily allows many to consider him as an early favorite for the championship.

“It’s definitely nice,” Truex’s crew chief James Small told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It’s definitely better than looking like a pack of losers. It’s good. Hopefully we can just continue this trend now.”

The early comments are no surprise, considering where those two wins have come. The No. 19 was able to go to victory lane at Phoenix Raceway and Martinsville Speedway – which are the final two tracks on the 2021 calendar.

But Small isn’t ready to count their chickens before they hatch, noting the summer months are now about accumulating bonus points, so they can get through each round to be a part of the conversation at Martinsville in November.

“It’s definitely nice to have won at two of the most important tracks,” he added. “There’s plenty more we need to knock off and get better at to make sure we make a really good run at it later in the year.”

Certainly improving their package will be part of the equation, as it was no cake walk en route to scoring the victory on Sunday. In fact, Small called it “a little bit of a shit show” with how far off they were at times through the event.

“It was very different to how we won here before. Usually we have a pretty dominant car and led a lot of laps. This week we had to battle,” he commented. “I think the track starting off this afternoon was quite a lot different to what we’ve experienced here in the last few races where we’ve been really strong. We struggled, chipped away at it.”

The struggles shined through the middle portion of the event, as Truex ran as high as the top-five, though fell back to 12th with the different strategies being utilized by various teams.

“I felt like we had a somewhat decent car on a long run, but it wasn’t great,” Small recalled. “We weren’t great on short runs. We still needed to be better. We didn’t have the pace of the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 12 (Ryan Blaney). We tried a couple things, went the wrong way, then came back on them and did a few other things. Finally that third stage, we hit on something. Martin gave really good feedback, exactly what he needed. It kind of all started making sense. I think the track came to us a little bit there.

“Yeah, it was just all over. It was a bit of a blur, to be honest. Pit crew did a great job at the end on the final stop.”

As the sun went down and the lights came on, the No. 19 seemed to come to life.

“I definitely think it was slick, it was getting a lot tighter,” Small said of the track transitioning. “(It) was taking a little more rubber. As it cooled off, I think those series of cautions, on short runs, never allowed it to rubber back up.

“We were pretty bad, like tight for a while there. We started going the wrong way. Kind of played into our hands a little bit. The 11 (Denny Hamlin) I think still got tight at the end there. We were maybe just a little bit ahead on our adjustments compared to them. It definitely helped. Also with it cooling down, I think it just got back more into our wheelhouse, where our setup was a little more happy based on the last three races.”

While they showed speed today and were able to make it work, Small and company know that cannot be the game plan come November. After all, the event will start earlier in the afternoon – 2pm eastern rather than 4 pm – with it finishing in the daylight.  

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