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The Switcharoo Could Be Big For Truex, FRR

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 24 2016
The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota nosed ahead of the No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin as the lead pack came through the final turn in last Sunday's Daytona 500. (RacinToday/HHP Photo by Alan Marler)

The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota nosed ahead of the No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin as the lead pack came through the final turn in last Sunday’s Daytona 500. (RacinToday/HHP Photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The news that Furniture Row Racing would switch from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2016 was a bit like the news that Team Penske would switch from Dodge to Ford after the 2012 season: Both teams were coming off best-ever seasons only to celebrate by switching manufacturers. Both prompted the question; why fix unbroken alliances?

sprint-logo-08But if Sunday’s performance in the Daytona 500 is any indication – and no, it probably is not – then FRR owner Barney Visser’s marque switcharoo is as sound as was Roger Penske’s.

Martin Truex Jr., in his first race in a Camry, ran up front all day long at Daytona International Speedway and then came up just a couple inches short of winning NASCAR’s big boy.

Afterward he was more than just a couple inches ahead of just being happy.

“It was really amazing what we were able to do all day and really just control the race the way we did,” Truex, who earned a berth in the four-team Championship Round of the 2015 Chase playoff, said.

There are big differences between FRR and Penske when it comes to the specifics of manufacturer jumping.

Penske, for example, was the lone Sprint Cup team using Dodges in 2012. The cagey team owner knew he needed somebody with whom to share data and against whom he could benchmark his team’s progress. The decision to jump to Ford, whose bell cow was Roush Fenway Racing, was made well before Brad Keselowski gave Penske his first Cup championship in 2012.

Penske, who traditionally has preferred to produce its own engines, opted to go with Roush Yates FR9

Martin Truex Jr. came up just inches short of winning the Daytona 500 in his first real race in a Toyota. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Martin Truex Jr. came up just inches short of winning the Daytona 500 in his first real race in a Toyota. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

engines after the jump but has integrated much of his own innovation into his cars. The result has been steady on-track performance for drivers Joey Logano and Keselowski.

Chevrolet has long been good at producing terrific horsepower in its Cup engines. Witness Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson’s six championships over the last 10 years and the one by Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas while using a Hendrick engine.

The switch by FRR to Toyota would seem a bit more questionable, except the switch is also to an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR and its Toyota Racing Development engines have proven the equal to those of Hendrick and better than those of Richard Childress Racing, with whom FRR had a technical alliance in the past, in recent seasons.

Visser and team president Joe Garone knew that while 2015 saw the Colorado-based, single-car team blossom into a contender, it needed to take the next step to make sure it remained a contender.

“When we signed the manufacturer agreement with Toyota, we were excited to be an integral part of the Toyota team,” Garone said. “The way we worked together during the offseason made us even more excited about this partnership. And after watching the Toyota teams perform in the 500 it was sure uplifting to know that we’re part of that group. With Toyota and having a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing we feel the future is bright at Furniture Row Racing.”

After his runner-up finish in the 500 – he placed second behind JGR’s Denny Hamlin and one spot ahead of JGR driver and reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch – Truex lavished praise on Toyota and JGR.

“Proud of how we worked together with the JGR guys,” Truex said. “That was important for us to kick off the year, try to start to form that relationship, showing those guys they could trust us, that we’re going to be a strong part of their team.

“It was really amazing what we were able to do all day and really just control the race the way we did.  First off, I’ve got to thank all those guys for allowing us to be a part of their team, especially the drivers today for working so well together and letting me be part of that.”

Truex said not all credit goes to JGR. He said the folks in the Denver shop had to deal with all new situations in switching from Chevy to Toyota.

“Our guys have really had a tall order this winter to switch everything over and start off with new chassis, bodies, suspension components,” he said. “Everything under these racecars that we have are new to us.”

Truex said the second-place finish is great. It gives his team momentum and his people confidence.

But, he said, it does not give the revamped team a real-life test of the newness that Furniture Row has undertaken.

Daytona was a plate race. And, it was conducted by equipment that will have significantl little to do with what Cup teams will be using in 32 of the next 35 races.

Next up is the 1.5-mile intermediate Atlanta Motor Speedway and conditions and cars and engines which teams will encounter at most other places.

“Obviously we’re looking forward to Atlanta, absolutely,” Truex said. “I think it’s going to be an incredible race.  Lower downforce on the race cars than last year.  I think the cars are going to be a real handful.  It’s going to be exciting.

“I’m looking forward honestly to just kicking off that part of the season, getting to work, seeing how our cars are, where we stack up to the competition, then kind of get to work on what we need to do to compete for wins, try to get back to where we were last year.

“I’m really looking forward to it.  The anticipation is high.  We will be going in there with a little bit of momentum is always a good feeling.”

Truex will be heading to Atlanta this week with a some choice thoughts about the final two seconds of the 2016 Daytona 500.

He was asked in the post-race press conference if he planned to watch the video of the final 20 feet of the 500-mile race – those feet in which he somehow went from a small advantage to an even smaller deficit at the finish line.

Already saw it, he said.

“I just wanted to see how much I got beat by,” the New Jersey native said. “Honestly, I don’t know that I could have done anything better to have a better chance of winning it.

“We were in the right spot, we made the right moves.  Staying low when the 20 (Matt Kenseth) went high I thought was my best chance to win.  It turned out that it was because we almost did.  You can second-guess all day long.

“I think the only thing I should have done different was been a little more aggressive coming to the line holding Denny up the racetrack.  That last split second when he pulled off my door, that was it.  It gave him that couple inches to beat me to the line.  If I had been rubbing him up the track a little earlier on, I think we would have been OK.

“It’s hard to make those decisions.  I felt like I had the momentum, and I did till those last couple feet.  So, you know, live and learn.  I think if I get in that position again, I’ll do it a little bit differently.  First time I’ve ever been in that spot.  I think we’ll have a lot more opportunities to win races this year with racecars like that.  Looking forward to getting better at taking advantage of them.”

As the flag man’s arm began to fall, many people thought that Truex had eked out the victory.

Not Truex. He knew he had finished second as soon as he crossed the finish line.

But he also knew that 2016 could be a mega year for him and Furniture Row.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 24 2016
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