Furniture Row Intent On Maintaining Top-Tier Status
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Kurt Busch’s fascinating run for a Sprint Cup championship a season ago prompted one of 2013’s biggest bench-racing debates: Was it car or driver? The likely best answer, of course, is both.
But you just have to believe that both the Furniture Row Racing team that built the cars, and the new driver who will be in Busch’s seat for 2014 are pretty intent on proving that they can both do their parts in returning the one-car operation to the Chase this year.
With information gleaned from practices and from Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session, it looks like team and driver could be of sufficient quality to prove that the correct pieces are back in place for a second-straight championship run.
After Truex Jr. had a very satisfying practice on Saturday, he wetn out and put the FRR Chevrolet SS on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s running of the 500.
His qualifying lap in 45.953 seconds at 195.852 miles per hour was just a shade slower than that of pole-winner Austin Dillon’s lap of45.914/196.019. Truex’s run also means that FRR will do something it could not do with Busch driving a year ago – not have to worry about the outcome of the Budweiser Duels qualifying races.
“Yeah,” Truex said of the pole for FRR and himself, “it’s a big deal.”
The story of Busch and Furniture Row was one of the biggies in 2013.
Both entities seemed adrift in the Sprint Cup Series.
Busch, a former Cup champion, was a driver of huge talent and equal-sized baggage when he signed on to drive for FRR. He had been let go by two of the top-tier teams – Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske – for failure to perform as a racing citizen and not because of a lack of talent. In 2012, he hooked up with Phoenix Racing because, well, none of the major players would have him. At Phoenix, he clearly was faster than his car.
In September of 2012, it was announced he would move to Furniture Row.
When Busch joined Colorado-based FRR, he joined a team that had big aspirations and decent funding but was never able to become competitive for wins, let alone championships.
“Though we have made strides as a resourceful single-car Sprint Cup team, we are not where we want to be, which led us to the difficult decision of making a driver change as we move forward,” Furniture Row Racing’s general manager Joe Garone said when Busch was hired. “Kurt’s exceptional driving talent has the capacity to take a team to another level.”
Last year, Busch and FRR made their move. They began to pile up not just top-10 finishes, but podiums. A late-season run put them into the 13-team Chase, where Busch finished 10th in points.
All of that earned Busch an invitation to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing’s four-car operation and left Furniture Row looking to find a driver who could maintain the momentum.
In October of last year, it was announced that Truex – who had won a Chase berth with Michael Waltrip Racing but then had it taken away because of actions of his teammates – would be the man.
“Man, the planets lined up,” Garone said of landing Truex, who had lost his job at MWR because of a sponsorship defection. “It was really an interesting part of history for us and for Martin.
“Martin has proven that he’s a Chase caliber driver and the nucleus of our team from last year in intact, which gives us plenty of optimism for another season of success.”
Truex also felt optimistic that he and FRR would maintain – and build upon – the success the team had in 2013.
“Well, it definitely makes you feel better knowing that they have been able to put up some great results and that they have had some fast race cars,” he said up arriving for Speedweeks. “Obviously that is part of why I went there. I wasn’t going to go there if I didn’t think that we could win races – that is not what I am here for.
“The off seasons are always tough. You are always wondering how it’s going to happen and how it’s going to go. You really just want to get in there and race. Especially when you start changing teams, you start talking to them, and you sign a deal. Last year we pretty much signed the deal in Texas and there is a lot of time in between Texas and the Daytona 500 if you think about it. So it’s really kind of a tough time and you really just want to get in there with your new team, and get to work and start racing together. But obviously you have to wait.”
The team and Truex took to the track for the first time in Speedweeks last week still in the wondering stage as crew chief Todd Berrier, who won the 500 in 2007 with driver Kevin Harvick, opted not participate in the annual January open test at DIS.
“I still felt really good about continuing to work in the wind tunnel, continue to work in the shop and do all the detail works that it takes to make the cars go fast,” Berrier said. “I feel you’re better suited to do that work in the shop, and while those guys are down here testing, we were back there beating the car up trying to get just a little bit more out of it. Obviously we should have started a week sooner, I think, but at the end of the day we were pretty close.”
Turns out, very close.
Even though the No. 78 FRR car made just one run in pre-qualifying practice, it grabbed P2 on the starting grid for Sunday’s race.
“I think for me it just makes me feel good that I’ve got a great team that can build fast race cars, and obviously I knew coming in that they were going to be able to do that,” Truex said when asked about the qualifying run and what it says about situation at FRR in 2014. “They did it last year, and so it’s fun to go to the racetrack when you know your stuff is going to be fast. I just hope, again, I can do a great job for them this year. This is a lot different than what we’re going to do all year where we need to really be strong, and so this is just the start for us.”
Yep, it will take months to get answers to questions about whether the team and the new driver have the ability to follow up on the cool story that was 2013.
But word is, the atmosphere around the team is top tier as the season opens. Chemistry is terrific and all that is needed is a few early successes to keep FRR’s status as a playoff team in tact.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org