Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones speeding along with Furniture Row Racing – The Denver Post
Ten races into its first NASCAR Cup Series season as a two-car team, Denver-based Furniture Row Racing is thinking championship with the No. 78 team’s continued improvement with the rookie No. 77.
Drivers Martin Truex Jr. and newcomer Erik Jones stand second and 20th in the point standings, respectively, and FRR general manager Joe Garone expects Jones will continue to reduce the gap and vie for the playoffs after the 26-race regular season.
“I think the 77 car, out of the box as a brand-new team, is probably doing better than we thought,” Garone said Tuesday from FRR’s northeast Denver race shop. “When you put new people together, it takes time to gel. I think that has happened quicker than we expected and I think we’re really close with that team — I really do.”
There is no doubt that the No. 78 again has championship potential. Truex, who won the third race of the season at Las Vegas, leads the series with five stage wins — nobody else has more than three — and is second in stage points (114) behind Kyle Larson (121). Truex finished fourth in both stages Sunday at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway before being caught up in a late-race, 18-car wreck that included Jones.
In an early stretch at Talladega, Truex and Jones were draft partners, with each leading the other.
“There was a point at Bristol (April 23) where the two of them were with each other, slicing through traffic,” Garone said. “For me, personally, I was on top of the world. It was terrific. I felt the same way Sunday at Talladega. I really felt that if we got to finish the race, both cars would have been there. I really think we had something for them.”
Despite finishing 35th Sunday, Truex is tied with Jimmie Johnson for second in playoff points (10) behind Brad Keselowski (12). Johnson and Keselowski have a series-high two victories apiece, and only bad luck has prevented Truex from having multiple wins.
Truex, who had four victories and paced the series in laps led last season — after finishing fourth in points in 2015 — is currently third in laps-led with 432. He’s seemingly always running up front.
“You don’t know what the future holds but I think the foundation is set for one of our better years,” Garone said of the No. 78 team. “That would be defined by winning the championship. We’re in the Chase (playoffs) right now with Martin and it’s looking really bright.”
Furniture Row is particularly optimistic heading into this week’s race at 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway and the ensuing two intermediate tracks at Charlotte (1.5 mile) and Dover (1 mile). Truex dominated intermediate tracks in 2016, winning at Charlotte, Darlington (1.366-mile), Dover and Chicago (1.5 mile).
Furniture Row sends 24 Denver-based employees to each race, doubling the amount of travelers from last year. The over-the-wall pit crews and some other personnel fly in from the East Coast and meet the rest of the team at the race.
“It’s been a lot of fun watching the teams come together,” Garone said.
As for Jones in particular, Garone said: “It was rocky at first with the pit stops, as you expect, but it’s come together really quite well. It reminded me when we started with Martin. We put ourselves in some bad positions, and we’ve had some bad luck, but there’s been speed in the race cars and Erik has done a really good job. He hasn’t got the finishes that he deserves but I do contribute most of that to growing pains. So it’s really exciting, as all of that gets worked out, to watch him get the best out of his talents. The future is really bright there.”
By the numbers
Through 10 races, Denver’s Furniture Row Racing stands second and 20th, respectively in the NASCAR Cup Series: