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Truex Returns Furniture Row To The Top Shelf

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 11 2015
Martin Truex Jr. got to spray champagne for NASCAR's little guys last Sunday.  (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

Martin Truex Jr. got to spray champagne for NASCAR’s little guys last Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

As the 2014 NASCAR season wound down to a close, it appeared that Furniture Row Racing had provided anecdotal evidence in support of a couple of long-debated racing questions.

buganalysisQuestions like: Which is more important in racing, car or driver? Are single-car teams doomed to survive only as field-fillers? Must championship contending teams base themselves in the Southeastern region of America?

Now, 14 weeks into the 2015 season, empirical evidence has – perhaps only temporarily – deformed the debate once again. That evidence suggests the answers of: Car and driver, no and no.

FRR and driver Martin Truex Jr. are now officially challenging for a Sprint Cup championship.

In 2005, Colorado businessman Barney Visser gave birth to a part-time Sprint Cup Series team that seemed doomed to go down in history as just another team field by a rich guy who has more money than racing sense.

And in deed, Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, Colo., spent its first eight years struggling to become competitive in a series which has long-been dominated by North Carolina-based mega teams.

The team had hired a succession of journeymen drivers – drivers like Joe Nemechek, Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer – and results were predictable.

FRR stayed with it, however. In fact, it took a step forward in 2010 when it opted to run a full Cup schedule and put promising and talented young driver Regan Smith behind the wheel. In 2011, Smith got the team its first victory – at Darlington – and went on to post four more top-10 finishes.

In 2012, Visser and his team took a chance by hiring NASCAR problem child/serious wheelman Kurt Busch to drive six races. In 2013, former Sprint Cup champion Busch was hired to replace Regan and ran the full season for FRR.

Though Busch never won a race for the team, he made Furniture Row one of the top stories of 2013 by actually running competitively against the sport’s major powers. He nailed 11 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s. He won a pole, led laps in 14 of 36 races and earned a berth in the Chase.

A couple of weeks into the playoffs that year, Busch very accurately told RacinToday.com, “Now it’s for real. We’re a bonafide Chase team that’s competing with the big dogs.”

However, given FRR’s history and circumstance, one had to wonder if the success of 2013 was a “we” thing or a Busch thing? Was Busch, one of the most talented drivers in America, the sole reason for the up-tick in success or merely a contributing factor?

In 2014, we thought we had our answer. Busch split for the bigger-time of Stewart-Haas Racing and FRR hired Martin Truex Jr. – a good driver but one who had given no indication that he could carry a single-car operation.

And with Busch gone, FRR did indeed slink back to the second tier: Truex posted one top-five, missed the Chase by a bunch, recorded just 13 lead-lap finishes, led just one lap all season and ended up 24th in points.

When the 2015 season cranked up at Speedweeks in February, there appeared to be little reason to expect much from the driver from the Northeast and the team from Rocky Mountain west.

Truex, with young Cole Pearn taking the place of Todd Berrier as crew chief for the No. 78 FRR Chevrolet, was, of course, absolutely positive his team would challenge for a playoff berth over the coming months.

“Last year is in the rearview mirror,” Truex said. “We’re looking ahead and I feel good about the direction for this season as far as building cars and what we need to go fast. We’ve made a number of changes and things seem to be clicking. Cole (Pearn, who Berrier in December) and I are on the same page and that’s important for obtaining success. Right now, all systems are go.”

And go Truex and FRR did.

A great Speedweeks – they finished 8th in the 500 – has been followed by week after week of top 10 finishes. Only once in the first 14 weeks has the 78 finished outside the top 10 and not once has the team been bumped outside the top seven in points.

Then came last week’s race at Pocono Raceway. Truex led 48 laps and won the race.

And gone are thoughts that the only reason that FRR looked like a legit contender during the 2013 season was because Visser and team general manager Joe Garone were were brave enough – or desperate enough – to put Busch into the car.

The Pocono victory almost assuredly puts Furniture Row into the Chase. And with almost three months to go until the start of the playoffs, the team will be now be able to work on plans, equipment and logistics for use once it does begin.

The Pocono victory was hugely popular among those in the garages and those in the grandstands, and for a number of reasons.

First, for the sake of Truex. He’s one of the sport’s good dudes. His bad luck on the race track in 2014 was nothing compared to the sadness that invaded in his personal life – the illness of his girlfriend Sherry Pollex has been well-documented.

Second, many see the success of Truex and FRR as proof that small pests can take down the mighty oaks in racing in the 21st Century.

Third, it represents a victory for those who have grown weary of the blueprinted formula of move-to-North Carolina or perish in NASCAR.

And fourth, it just plain felt good. For those on the outside and, especially, for those on the inside.

During a teleconference with the media on Wednesday, Truex’s happiness and confidence oozed through as he talked about Pocono and the 2015 rebound.

“Well,” the New Jersey native said, “it’s really hard to put it into words just what it meant.  You know, I think honestly this whole season has been just so much fun for us as a team and as a group.  After kind of what we went through last year, learning each other, learning more what not to do than anything and then really bringing it into this season, it’s just been a pleasure to work with the team.  It’s been a lot of fun.  Honestly it’s the most fun I’ve had in racing in a long, long time, and just so thankful for the opportunity to drive for Barney and everybody there.”

Should Truex and the guys from Colorado connect with another roundhouse on the final day of the Chase next November and win a championship for the little guys of racing, it will not just be fun, it will be important.

More important perhaps, than Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning a championship or Danica Patrick winning a race.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 11 2015
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