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NASCAR Cup Series

Confidence Ahead of the Ford Ecoboost 400 for Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing

HOMESTEAD, Fla – After a grand journey with Furniture Row Racing, Martin Truex Jr. is looking to cap it off with one last victory. It won’t be just any win; it would be their second straight championship.

Earlier this year, Furniture Row Racing announced it would be closing its doors at the end of the season. The news left many fans in shock because the Cinderella story of the small team from Denver, Colorado would no longer have an existence. The distractions from that news, though, did not slow down Truex Jr. and the No. 78 team.

Instead, the team managed to survive each round of the elimination rounds in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The advantage of gathering a substantial amount of playoff points going into the post-season paid off.

During the Round of 8, Truex Jr’s best finish was fifth at Kansas Speedway. The two races prior, he finished 15th at Dover International Speedway and 14th at the inaugural Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

His dominance last season was mostly displayed on 1.5-mile tracks where he was victorious seven times. The defending champion may have to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, but being a 1.5-mile track may play to his advantage. This weekend, Goodyear brought a different tire from last season to Homestead and Truex is hoping he can do the same thing as last year to win the big trophy.

“If we can do exactly what we did last year that would be fine,” Truex Jr. said. “It depends, that’s the thing about racing its always changing, constantly changing, moving target and I don’t know how those other three guys are going to be. If they’re off a little bit, then maybe we can be off a little bit and still win but you don’t come done here and feel like that’s going to happen.”

With only four guys racing for the championship, we cannot forget about the other 35 competitors hungry for a win. With this being the season finale, many drivers are hoping to finish the season off with a victory. Truex Jr. hopes that’s not the case and believes it may be the Championship 4 racing for the win.

“You feel like it’s going to be one of those four guys which we’ve seen every single year and one of those four guys is going to hit it.” Truex Jr. told POPULAR SPEED. “You just gatta hope you’re the one and our guys have been working hard, they’re confident and talking to Cole this week he feels really good about it so that gives me confidence. Usually if they’re pretty confident in what they are doing that translates into results.”

If the confidence translates into results it would leave a historic legacy for Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing. That little team from Denver, Colorado will always be remembered as the underdogs that were able to win a few NASCAR titles.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Furniture Row To Cease Operations At Season’s End

Furniture Row Racing has announced that at the end of the 2018 season they will be ceasing operations.

“This is not good for anybody,” team owner Barney Visser said in an official statement. “The numbers just don’t add up. I would have to borrow money to continue as a competitive team and I’m not going to do that. This was obviously a painful decision to arrive at knowing how it will affect a number of quality and talented people.”

The news comes after one of the team’s main sponsors, 5-Hour ENERGY, had announced in July plans to depart from the sport at the end of the year.

“We’ve been aggressively seeking sponsorship to replace 5-Hour ENERGY and to offset the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing but haven’t had any success. I feel that it’s only proper to make the decision at this time to allow all team members to start seeking employment for next year. I strongly believe that all of our people have enhanced their careers by working at Furniture Row Racing,” Visser said.

The move comes on the heels of the team’s first championship season in 2017 with driver Martin Truex Jr. FRR has continued to be successful this year as they currently sit third in points with four wins and 15 top-five’s, further establishing themselves as one of the sport’s best.

“While I am saddened by today’s announcement, I totally understand the decision. Barney Visser, Joe Garone, and the entire Furniture Row Racing team took me in while my career was in a bad place, and together we reached the pinnacle of the sport. I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them, and also to Furniture Row, Denver Mattress and the Visser family,” Truex said. “But, make no mistake this is not the immediate end. We still have unfinished business to attend to and that’s to give everything we have to successfully defend our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Right now that is foremost on my mind as it is with the entire team.”

In addition to the loss of the competitive team, the news now means that Truex, a driver who has won 16 races in the last three years, joins the likes of other past champions Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, and former Daytona 500 winners, Trevor Bayne and Jamie McMurray, with uncertain futures heading into 2019.

The turn of events also begs several other questions as well. What will happen to Cole Pearn? The crew chief that has been behind all of FRR’s recent accomplishments; will he follow Truex wherever he goes? Who gets assets? What about their charter? However, the biggest question mark of all though maybe the unknown impact the departure will have on NASCAR as a whole.

Notably, shortly after the announcement, both Motorsport.com and Fox Sports reported that multiple sources told them that Truex and Pearn, along with sponsor Bass Pro Shops, will make the move to Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Daniel Suarez.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

5 BIGGEST STORYLINES OF 2017: David vs. Goliath

From the Daytona 500 in February to the last checkered flag of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, the world of left turns – with an occasional right – keeps everybody on the edge of their seats. While the on-track action keeps eyes peeled on the asphalt, the discussion, and headlines generated away from the competition result in plenty of water cooler talk.

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season was no exception, as there were lots to talk about right from the beginning. As we close a chapter on another year, POPULAR SPEED is going to reflect upon the five most significant storylines in a series of articles.

We went from retirement to the youth movement, before sparking a rivalry and introducing stage racing. But of course, everything came together for the perfect David vs. Goliath climax to the NASCAR season.

It has been long believed in NASCAR competition that to succeed, you need a lot of resources and a multi-car organization to help you build your program up. When it came to choosing who would be the series champion at year’s end, lots of times fans would point towards the likes of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Team Penske, among others.

Would you ever believe that Furniture Row Racing would be on that list? Maybe not if you go back a couple seasons ago.

For one, the team has gone a different route than traditionally believed to be the right road, setting up shop in Colorado versus being down in North Carolina in NASCAR’s hub. The logistics and distance from the rest make it seem impossible. However, they proved otherwise.

It wasn’t easy starting out, though. Imagine waiting six seasons just to get your first top-10. 

Though once they had success, it just seemed to come together. Regan Smith won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 2011, then Kurt Busch placed them in the year-end top-10 in points in 2013.

As they say, you need the right combination of people. Enter Martin Truex Jr., looking to get things back on-track after being caught in a scandal at Michael Waltrip Racing. Enter Cole Pearn, an engineer from Canada ready for his big break as a crew chief.

It also takes putting the right pieces together, and they managed to find a gem in a partnership with Toyota Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing the past two years. 

Looking at the road they took to success, it gives hope to other small teams – like Leavine Family Racing, and even Richard Petty Motorsports as they’ve hit some recent lows – that it is indeed possible to put together results. But make no mistake, it’s no easy task, either.

“It’s got it’s ultimate times, and it’s a struggle at other times,” Michael McDowell told POPULAR SPEED recently. “So when you’re on the up-swing and things are going well, it’s a great feeling. But also, the struggles of being a small team and being underfunded and all those things when you’re struggling, it makes it tough. It’s hard to overcome and bounce back.”

Least now there is a sign of hope at the other end of the tunnel.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
Commentary

Toyota’s Domination is Even Worse Than You Think

When Martin Truex Jr. won the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, it kicked off a remarkable hot streak for the two affiliated Toyota Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams, Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.

Truex’s  victory at Kentucky was the first of eight wins in 11 races for JGR and Furniture Row.

Over those 11 races, the six drivers for those two teams have combined to lead 78.8 percent of the total laps run. That translates to 2,390 laps led by the six Toyota drivers vs. a combined 642 laps led for the 30 or so Chevrolets and Fords typically in the Cup field in any given race.

Or to look at it another way, five of the six JGR/Furniture Row drivers — all but Daniel Suarez — have led at least 134 laps in the last 11 races. In that same period, Kyle Larson has led 250 laps, which makes him the only Chevrolet driver to lead more than 100 laps.  Brad Keselowski (167 laps led) is the lone Ford driver to be out front for more than 100 laps in those 11 races.

In this span, JGR’s Denny Hamlin has led 213 laps, which is more than all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers and all three Richard Childress Racing drivers combined. Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion, hasn’t led a lap since Daytona in July.

Unless one of the Ford or Chevrolet teams suddenly finds some speed, the last eight Cup playoff races could well see more of the same from JGR and Furniture Row.

And that is to say, utter and total domination.

Will someone step up over those eight races?

We’ll find out soon enough, starting this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Despite Huge Numbers, No Guarantees for Martin Truex Jr.

Is it inevitable that Martin Truex Jr. will become the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion?

The statistics sure seem to point in that direction.

In a career season with the Denver-based Furniture Row Racing team, Truex leads the Cup Series in race victories (five), top 10s (18), stage wins (18), playoff points (58) and percentage of laps led (22.46 percent). He has drubbed the field for most of the year.

Given that Truex won the opening race of the NASCAR playoffs last week at Chicagoland Speedway, and given that playoff points carry over in each of the first three rounds, it would pretty much take an act of God for him not to be one of the four finalists who will race heads-up for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19.

But making the final round doesn’t guarantee a championship. The four combatants at Homestead will stat the race tied in points. The winner will be the driver with the best finish of the four.

Consider, if you will, how the Homestead race played out in the three years that NASCAR has had the one-race, winner-take-all format.

In 2014, Denny Hamlin was leading on Lap 259 of 267, but got passed by Kevin Harvick, who won the race and the title.

In 2015, Brad Keselowski was leading on Lap 260, but Kyle Busch passed him to win the race and the series crown.

Last year, Kyle Larson was ahead on Lap 265, only to get passed by Jimmie Johnson, which gave Johnson the win and his record-tying seventh championship.

So, just to recap, in each of the last three seasons, the lead at Homestead changed in the closing laps. More importantly, perhaps, in those three season-ending racers, six different drivers — none of whom was Truex — led late in the race and figured prominently in the outcome.

Yes, the smart money still is on Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing to win a championship.

But despite Truex’s domination, it’s a long way from over and there’s plenty of racing left to do.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Michigan Success Defines Rise of Furniture Row Racing  

It has been a rare occurrence in recent decades that a small team can build itself up and become a top-tier organization in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Many have emerged at the premiere level only to eventually fold a couple of years down the road due to the challenges associated with competing with the sport’s established teams.

However, Furniture Row Racing has been an exception, emerging as a powerhouse organization.

They reached a significant milestone in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, placing two cars in the top-five for the first time since beginning to field two entries this season.

Not only did they finish well but Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones dominated, running up front and at times occupying the top two positions.

Had it not been for Kyle Larson charging to the lead on the final restart, the two FRR cars looked to be in a position to battle for the win. 

However, there is no disappointment in placing second and third as it attests to their rapid growth since hiring Truex Jr. in 2014.

When the former Michael Waltrip Racing driver climbed behind the wheel, he struggled mightily, only capturing five top-10 finishes and leading just one lap in his first year. 

After a season of working together, FRR turned a corner in 2015.

Truex Jr. won at Pocono, earning the second victory for the stable after Regan Smith won at Darlington in 2011, and scored eight top-five’s and 22 top-10’s. 

This stout performance earned the No. 78 team a spot in the playoffs for the second time in its history which ultimately led to a run to the Championship 4.

While Truex Jr. didn’t take home the title, the story of an underdog team from Denver, Colorado in contention for the season’s biggest prize captured significant attention.

Developing an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota during the following season was the next major step leading to their success today as Truex Jr. emerged as one of the best drivers in 2016.

The group stepped it up again in 2017, not only adding a second entry with Jones behind the wheel but proving more competitive than ever before now with two cars.

Truex Jr. has continued to dominate, leading the series with four wins, and blowing out the field in the playoff points column. Jones has also fared well for a rookie with two third-place finishes to his name. 

There is no doubt that Truex Jr. will be the championship favorite heading into the Playoffs. By carrying in at least 50 playoff points including the 15 additional points that he will pick up by winning the regular season title, he is essentially a lock for the season finale.

Being in this position highlights the remarkable rise for FRR. Not many expected this level of success when they first opened operations in 2005, but it’s a testament to the hard work and leadership of owner Barney Visser.

Whether or not they take home the title this season, expect this organization to remain as fierce championship contenders for years to come.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Impressive Pocono Performance Leads Jones Closer to Victory

A full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie hasn’t won an event that was not shortened by rain in nearly a decade. Erik Jones is looking to change that this season and another strong showing at Pocono Raceway proved it is an attainable goal.

Jones earned his best career finish of third on Sunday following a strong second half and a gutsy two-tire pit stop call late in the race.

It’s the Furniture Row Racing driver’s second top-10 finish in three races and third of the season after finishing seventh at Charlotte.

However, despite a lack of impressive results often due to misfortune late in the race, he has posted many promising runs through the first 14 races of 2017.

A slow final pit stop cost Jones a top-10 performance at Las Vegas after he ran among the leaders throughout the afternoon.

Similar circumstances played out at Bristol as a top-10 run was erased after contact with a lapped car eventually cut down one of Jones’ tire and sent him into the wall.

He was again racing in the top-10 last weekend at Dover before a flat tire, and unscheduled pit stop robbed him of another strong result.

The No. 77 team’s greatest challenge seems to be putting a full race together. They overcame this obstacle at Pocono, and it ultimately showed Jones’ potential to battle for a win if he finds himself in contention late in another event this season.

With three first-time winners finding Victory Lane in the last two months including Ryan Blaney on Sunday, it raises the question of who will be next to taste the champagne.

While Chase Elliott has been close before and seems most likely to visit the winner’s circle, it could be Jones becoming the second rookie to win in two years after Chris Buescher captured a rain-shortened victory at Pocono last August.

Jones would become the first rookie to win a race that ran the advertised distance since Juan Pablo Montoya claimed the checkered flag at Sonoma in 2007.

Now heading to Jones’ home track of Michigan International Speedway where he has only made two starts but scored top-five’s  in each, a win would make for quite the homecoming.

Combining the 21-year-old’s potential and impressive Furniture Row Racing equipment makes him a favorite to join the competitors who have earned their first career wins in 2017.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Confidence Growing for Rookie Erik Jones

With his fourth straight top-15 finish, rookie Erik Jones feels Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway was a confidence boost.

Jones had an up-and-down day at Martinsville, involved in a wreck with 82 laps to go, but rebounded to finish 12th.

“Martinsville has never been my friend,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “You know, we did a good job all week.  We got better in practice.  We had a good car, I thought, in practice.  Started off the race and just kind of exaggerated the struggles we had all weekend and caught that a lot of the day.  Thought we were making gains on it at one point and then kind of went backwards.

“By the end of the race, we were the best we had been all day all tore up, so I don’t know what that means but the Five Hour Energy Camry, I thought, was probably a 10th place car maybe at the end.  I don’t know.  We ran up there, sixth, seventh for a little bit.  After that, we kind of struggled to stay up there.”

In the big picture, Jones is set to continually improve each week.  After surprising himself at Martinsville, Jones feels the team is accomplishing their goals for the season and knocking on the door of contending.

“Our goal was to get subtly better,” Jones explained.  “At least that was my goal for the team.  I feel like we’ve done that.  I knew this was going to be our biggest challenge of all the racetracks we’ve gone to this year and it was.  I feel like we struggled the most with handling for sure this weekend but we did a good job of improving on it.  We’ll go to Texas next week and that’s a little bit more of our forte so hopefully we can get up and run inside the top-five like we did at Auto Club and seal one out.”

While Jones feels confident about next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and fellow intermediates, the next short track on the schedule – Bristol Motor Speedway on April 23 – is on his radar. The half-mile is similar to what Jones cut his teeth on when he was racing in Super Late Models, such as the high banked, half-mile Winchester Speedway in Indiana.

“I like Bristol a lot,” Jones said.  “That reminds me a lot of the tracks I grew up racing Late Models on.  It’s always fun to go back there.  I struggled the first couple times I went there but the last few times I’ve been there in the XFINITY car, we’ve had really good speed and felt like we had winning cars each time.  We’ll keep working at it and I know Bristol will be a fun one for us.”

Erik Jones will ride the wave of momentum into Texas as he prepares for double duty, competing in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race and Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Truex Watches Victory Slip Away due to Strategy Miscues

FONTANA, Calif. — Climbing from his Furniture Row Racing Toyota, Martin Truex Jr. was frustrated. It’s a feeling he knows having seen many races slip away.

On Sunday after leading 73 laps, the New Jersey native finished fourth in the Auto Club 400.

“We were right there all day long. I felt like [Kyle Larson, race winner] had everybody covered. It was just a matter of who got out front and got clean air,” Truex said. “Towards the end, we had a little trouble in the pits. We didn’t take tires, everybody else did, and we were at a big disadvantage those last couple restarts.”

Since 2015, the driver of the No. 78 has earned six of his eight career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, including this year’s event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But he’s become notorious for dominating and not finishing the job.

In 2016, Truex led the most laps all season and 425 more than Kevin Harvick, but both had four victories. The year before, he led 567 laps (ranked seventh) but had only one win.

Sunday’s race, it seemed he had a dominant car, but came up short.

“We had a big disadvantage at the end, playing defense more than offense. We played offense all day, and I was able to run first or second most of the day,” Truex said. “At the end of the day, we had a disadvantage on tires, and that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes you make the call, and it’s right, and sometimes your call is wrong. We made the wrong one today, but to come home with a fourth after all that, definitely a good day for us.”

Truex is fourth in the points standings, and with a win, he’s all but locked into the postseason. He also won Stage 2 of the race, giving him a playoff point.

The next stop on the Cup Series schedule is Martinsville, where he started first last November and finished seventh after leading 147 laps.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Jones Content with New Team, Earns First Career Top 10 at PIR

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Starting a new team from the ground up can be difficult in any racing series — even for the highest-budget organizations.

But Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie Erik Jones is finding consistency with the seven-month-old Furniture Row Racing No. 77 team and earned his first career top 10 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.

Jones, who won his first NASCAR national series race at PIR in November 2013 in a truck, finished eighth in the Camping World 500. Remove the 39th-place result he had in the Daytona 500, and he’s averaging a finish of 12th to start his first year in the sport’s top level.

He earned four Stage points by running seventh at the conclusion of Stage 2 at the desert oval and sits 18th in the points standings — the highest among five Cup rookies.

“This week was better than I thought it would be,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “I know we have ups and downs, but it was my goal and the team’s goal to steadily improve each week, and I think we’ve done that.”

The 20-year-old Michigan native has veteran Martin Truex Jr., who visited Victory Lane last weekend at Las Vegas, as a teammate at FRR, but he hasn’t had to ask for much advice from the No. 78 driver.

“You look at your own data, and it takes a lot of the questions out,” Jones said. “Fortunately, we’ll see he’s doing this or doing this … OK, we’ll figure that out. It helps a lot. I study pretty hard.”

Jones said the team has meshed well together with first-year Cup crew chief Chris Gayle holding the reigns, and a “new camaraderie” has formed among the No. 77 team.

“We’ve been getting everyone to execute well over the last few weeks,” Jones said. “We’re definitely competitive and bringing fast cars to the track. We’re executing well on pit road, and we’re executing on restarts.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.