Furniture Row Stayed With It And Then Won It

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, November 20 2017

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates his and his Furniture Row Racing team’s 2017 Cup championship.
(RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

During those high-interest years of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, we all watched and snickered as NASCAR outsiders brashly barged their way into the sport and then, extremely quickly, barged their way out again sans their brashness.

Then there was one group of outsiders that did stay, and on Sunday evening in the discarded-home appliance-strewn swamps of South Florida, their team was rewarded with the 2017 Cup Series championship.

Welcome to the inside, Furniture Row Racing.

FRR showed up in NASCAR the way so many cock-sure would-be owners showed up back in the ’90s. Owners who had a few bucks in their pockets and planned to use NASCAR as a way to put more bucks into those pockets. That mob included everybody from former big-time athletes like NFL quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikmen, to people who had success in less-successful other race series, like Kevin Buckler of sports car racing.

Press conferences announcing intentions to race in the Cup series came with machine gun-like rapidity in those days. Announced reasons for wanting to throw in with what was then the fastest growing pro sport in America ranged from a desire to be competitive to the love of speed.

The major unannounced reason was that it looked very profitable and extremely easy this going around in circles in rolling billboards thing.

Turns out that racing is a lot more difficult and a lot more expensive than it looks from the sidelines. So the wannabe team owners vaporized as quickly – but a lot less ceremonially – as they had materialized.

Furniture Row Racing, which not only was born in racing coldbed Denver, Colorado but was adamant about remaining there, had a familiar feel to it when, led by furniture store owner Barney Visser stuck his toe into the racing waters in the 1990s.

Even as the entire foot, and then the entire leg, and then the top of Visser’s head were emersed, it was just easy to assume that FRR would remain a field-filling team.

But FRR avoided the problems of other poorly thought out, getrich quick racing operations. With Visser and GM Joe Garone at the controls, the team remained patient and virtually all its moves were, if not good ones, were moves that provided learning experiences.

Four of the good moves stand out.

The first was signing former Cup champion and perennial NASCAR bad boy Kurt Busch to drive the car. With Busch driving, FRR added both credibility and speed to its lone Cup entry. Garone said after the hiring, “Kurt’s exceptional driving talent has the capacity to take a team to another level.” Yep. It was Busch who first dispelled thoughts that FRR was just another cheapo operation that was intent to merely hang on in the sport. Over lunch one day during his tenure as FRR driver, he got genuinely excited as he described the team’s shops and its stocks of new, first-rate car parts and pieces. This team can win, Busch said.

Then their was the hiring of journeyman Martin Truex Jr. to replace Busch after the latter bolted to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 just before the winning started. The team also brought Truex’s former crew on board after the demise of Michael Waltrip Racing.

Next was the hiring of Cole Pearn as crew chief for the No. 78 car in 2015.

Then, in 2016, the team switched to Toyota and entered into a technical relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Yes, there were the missteps along the way but it the team has been marked by a two forward, one back over the last two decades.

Then came Sunday and Homestead. Victory Lane champagne always tastes good. For the guys at FRR, which wine-less for so many years, it must have tasted like manna.

It sure did for Garone.

“Well, it took a long time,” he said after the race. “Those first several years, obviously I needed better people because I was running the car as a crew chief and the books and everything else, and that’s a formula for disaster.

“But as Barney got his feet wet and started understanding what it was he really wanted out of NASCAR and wanted to do, we were able to make some decisions that were major tipping points in the walk, and really when Cole came on board, I believe it was 2010 or so, he came with another group of guys, and that was really the beginning of us surrounding ourselves with the people we needed to be able to have the foundation to be able to do what we did today, and that continues on not just with the people in the shop but with our relationships outside of the shop with — we could not do this without Toyota and the support that they’ve given us and Joe Gibbs Racing.

“The truth is we have a great technical alliance with them, and it takes all of those components besides the great guys in the shop that we have to pull this kind of thing off.”

Visser missed the party at Homestead. He is recovering from a heart attack he suffered in early November.

He wasn’t even supposed to be watching the race on television and not just because of the aggravation that non-stop commercials and oddball commentary can induce. “That’s right, Garone said, “he wasn’t” supposed to be watching.

Garone added however, “You know he was watching.”

And not just watching.

“So he called as we were going to Victory Lane, which is really pretty amazing,” Garone said. “You could hear in his voice the excitement.

“He told me going into it he didn’t know — he’s not supposed to be stressed.  He said, I’m not so sure whether not watching the race is more stressful than watching it, but I’ll make that decision when I get there.  As of right now, I don’t know what he did.  But he was excited for sure.  That’s absolutely true.”

What are a few doctor’s orders for a guy who completely defied several of the most powerful trends in modern NASCAR.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, November 20 2017
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