There’s supposed to be a clearly defined standard on the performance level of a single-car team competing against multi-car, extremely well-funded juggernauts like Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing.
At best, a single-car outfit can be considered a threat to win an occasional race — likely to occur on a road course or a restrictor-plate track where the playing field is evened. Anything more substantial, though, isn’t a practical goal.
Competing for titles is earmarked for the big-dollar organizations, as it’s been since 1992 when a single-car team last won a Cup Series championship. More indicative of the plight is the fact that only three times since the turn of the 21st century has a driver for a single-car team finished 15th or better in the year-end point standings. Teams that field just a single entry have their place — typically the middle of the pack, not the front.
However, Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex Jr. have not just smashed through this glass ceiling, they have obliterated into tiny shards. Truex’s victory Sunday at Pocono Raceway was his first of the season, but it had been building for weeks — the only surprise is it didn’t occur sooner.
In each of the past four points races, Truex has led the most laps. On the year, he has finished in the top-10 in every race but one and ranks second in the standings, trailing only defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick. Truex is more than a Cinderella; he’s now emerged as a bona fide title contender.
“Right now, we’re as good as anyone out there,” Truex said. “I mean, look what we’ve done the last four weeks. We’ve went head-to-head with the big guys, the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 4 (Harvick), who have been the guys to beat for a year-and-a-half. The 48 has been the guy to beat for seven, eight years. We’ve been right there with them, toe-to-toe.”
Modern day NASCAR had supposedly outgrown the time when a small team could be expected to outslug the sport’s superpowers. That an organization with approximately 65 employees, compared with the 500 on the payrolls at each of Hendrick and JGR, could find a way to be competitive.
And if a smaller team were to somehow arise to consistently challenge the heavyweights, it certainly would be based in NASCAR’s epicenter of Charlotte, N.C., and not in Denver of all places.
“I think there’s always going to be those powerhouse teams in the sport,” Truex said. “You’re going to always have Hendrick; you’re always going to have Penske, the big four-car teams. But I think there’s room for a lot more competitive single-car teams to kind of evolve and come to the forefront and be able to compete, be on the same level as a Hendrick or a Gibbs or somebody like that.”
By stationing itself in a far-off outpost, the team assures the guys it does hire bring an unwavering commitment. Jumping to another outfit, as many do so often back in Charlotte, isn’t as easy as just walking across the street to a different team when you’re the only one in town.
When Furniture Row principle Barney Visser decided to start a NASCAR team, the consensus said he was foolish to operate anywhere other than the Carolinas. To think someone would relocate to Denver when there were other viable options much closer to their backyard was a surefire way to guarantee failure.
But Visser’s other business interests remained in Denver, and if he was going to invest in building a team he wanted to be involved in the day-to-day operation face-to-face, not remotely. So against all sound reason, that’s where Furniture Row set up shop.
“The biggest reason I work there is because it’s in Denver, Colorado,” said Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief. “Being Canadian, I love it out there. I love the outdoors, love to be able to ski and play hockey and do all those things outside of life, and it makes for a fun group.
“We’ve got a really good, tight-knit young group of guys, and it makes it a lot of fun being out there. We’ve made all similar commitments in our lives to live out there. We all hang out with each other on days off, we do things together, and it just makes it a ton of fun when you can succeed with a group like that.”
Gradually, Furniture Row climbed up the NASCAR hierarchy. It transitioned over a six-year span (2005-10) from part-time in the Xfinity Series to Cup full-time. Its lone victory (prior to Truex’s at Pocono), earned by Regan Smith in 2011, combined with the addition of Kurt Busch to propel the team to an unlikely Chase for the Sprint Cup bid two years later.
When Busch left for the greener pastures of Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the 2013 season, Furniture Row signed Truex, who had been jettisoned by Michael Waltrip Racing due to lack of sponsorship. Although Truex underachieved last season, there were indications of Furniture Row recapturing its 2013 promise when Pearn took the job as crew chief with three races remaining.
“They probably spend as much money as anybody in the garage if not more,” Harvick said. “They have a lot of logistics to overcome and it’s taken them to long time to get the people in place, but they have good people.
“They put the effort in and it shows.”
Helping Furniture Row is an alliance it has with Richard Childress Racing, which provides technical data, chassis and engines. Every week trucks crisscross between North Carolina and Colorado bringing Furniture Row transmissions, motors and other parts.
Although it may be just a single entity, Furniture Row lacks little and its hard work overcomes any shortcomings. When Truex nearly won consecutive races at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway last month, he did so driving the same car.
Galvanized, Pearn decided to bring the same chassis to the next race at Dover International Speedway. That meant when the team’s hauler arrived back in Denver just after midnight Tuesday morning, an army of workers were immediately ready to begin the rebuild process with a deadline of 10 p.m. that same night. Truex went on to lead a race-high 131 laps and finished sixth.
After weeks of close calls, Sunday brought the breakthrough. He outran Harvick over the final 16 circuits to win comfortably.
Now the focus shifts from just winning a race, to something far more significant.
“This team is just something special,” Truex said. “This is the kind of thing I’ve been looking for my whole career, and hopefully we can keep it going.
“There’s still mountains to climb and things to conquer. We haven’t won a championship. This is one race. We’ve got a lot of work to do yet.”