How Furniture Row Racing Went From Nascar Outsider To Cup Contender – Forbes

Regan Smith’s win at Darlington in 2011 was the first ever victory for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing, and longtime general manager Joe Garone says the win was the first in a chain of events that led to the team competing for series championships. (Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

Even Nascar’s most casual fans are plenty familiar with the typical post-race fanfare: A stock car, plastered head to foot in colorful corporate sponsorships, giving the fans a smoky show with celebratory burnouts. But at Darlington Raceway in 2011 the car burning rubber didn’t have the colorful paint job or collage of sponsor logos. Rather, the hood of winner Regan Smith’s jet-black car featured just two words in simple block white lettering: Furniture Row.

The Denver-based furniture chain wasn’t just the car’s only visible sponsor – the rear quarter panels went to Denver Mattress, a Furniture Row subsidiary – but it was, and remains, the No. 78’s owner. A furniture store isn’t a typical Nascar brand, and that’s hardly the only thing that makes Furniture Row Racing unique: The team is also run out of Colorado, making it one of just two teams not based in North Carolina; the other, Wood Brothers Racing, is right across the border in Virginia.

“There’s no question that being in Denver, in the beginning, made it really hard to get the people that you need to be able to run at that level, to be qualifying for races and running up front,” says longtime team general manager Joe Garone, “You kind of have to prove yourself. The first domino that fell was Regan Smith winning Darlington, and I think the industry said, ‘Okay, how’d they do that?’”

Good question. Garone insists it was just a matter of years learning the sport and making some big decisions along the way. It’s a plan that’s worked, as in the seasons since Smith’s win the team has become a veritable contender, winning four races last season and making the championship race the year before.

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It’s been a long road getting to that point. Owner Barney Visser started the team in 2005 but didn’t run a full 36-race season until five years later. Garone says there was never a part-time commitment to the sport, only the challenges of a smaller team trying to qualify for the field (the only exception was 2009, when the recession forced the team to scale back to running just half the season). The first 36-race season came in 2010, the first win came in 2011 and the dominoes have just kept falling since.

Late in the 2012 season Smith was replaced by Kurt Busch, who Garone credits with taking the team to the next level. Busch drove just the last six races of that season and posted three top-ten finishes. The following year he put up 11 top-five performances, though he never made it atop the podium (“Somehow we didn’t win a race,” recalls Garone, “We should have won a couple of them”).

It was a record season for Furniture Row, but the team’s future soon came into question when Busch left for Stewart-Haas Racing. These days Garone laughs as he calls it a set of unlucky circumstances and lucky timing. The circumstances being that the team just lost the best driver it ever had. The timing being that two months later another great driver would become available and fall right into Furniture Row’s lap.

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