Martin Truex Jr. wants to stay with Furniture Row Racing, and the single-car, Denver-based team wants to re-sign the driver whose contract expires at the end of the season. Considering the high interest of both parties, it would seem a contract extension would be a mere formality.
Contracts, however, are rarely that straightforward and without complication even when all involved seek the same outcome. In this instance, conversations between Truex and Furniture Row have yet to commence due to several mitigating factors.
When he was unceremoniously dumped by Michael Waltrip Racing after the organization became entangled in a race-fixing scandal (unbeknownst to Truex) prior to the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Truex made it clear he sought a team that didn’t just make him feel wanted but could also provide cars good enough to win.
For its part, Furniture Row required a driver who didn’t just see the team as a steppingstone to bigger opportunities. It had just seen Kurt Busch in his single season driving the No. 78 car elevate the team from a mid-pack operation to a Chase contender, only to depart for the powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing where sponsorship, resources and personnel depth were in abundance.
Which is why Furniture Row insisted Truex sign not a one-year contract but a two-year deal. The team needed a driver who it could build around for the future knowing he wasn’t going to leave.
And despite a rocky and underwhelming first year together, Truex and Furniture Row have evolved into an ideal match of driver and team. The 34-year-old Truex snapped his 69-race winless streak and Furniture Row’s 148-race drought Sunday at Pocono Raceway. On the season, Truex has 13 top-10s in 14 races, ranks second it points and third in laps led.
“With the team that we’re building, that we’ve built, I feel like this is the kind of situation that I’ve really looked for my whole career,” Truex said Wednesday during a media teleconference. “The guys have done such a great job and they’re so good at what they’re doing and we have such a great group. I feel like this team is special.
So what’s preventing Truex and Furniture Row executives from locking themselves in a room and hammering out a deal?
Foremost, Furniture Row’s standing as an outfit without any outside financial support. Team owner Barney Visser self-sponsors the No. 78 car and acknowledges that without additional funding it will be hard for to maintain the current performance level and sign Truex to a contract comparable to a driver of his stature.
“We’re looking for sponsorship, we need that,” Visser said Wednesday on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “We need to get some of that in place to negotiate the kind of contract we both liked to see.
“This is a little out of our budget for this thing. We refuse to back down. We’ll see where it goes. Hopefully, the right sponsors are going to step up.”
One possibility is changing manufacturers from Chevrolet to either Ford or Toyota, Visser told SiriusXM host Dave Moody. Although Furniture Row qualified for the playoffs in 2013, Chevrolet doesn’t offer any monetary or factory support, instead focusing its NASCAR efforts on SHR, Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, which shares a technical alliance and provides cars and engines to Furniture Row.
Ford or Toyota would welcome a partnership, as each carmaker is interested in adding additional teams — especially an organization the caliber of Furniture Row and a driver possessing Truex’s talent.
In addition to receiving additional funding, if a switch to either brand occurred, Furniture Row could easily form an alliance with Team Penske (Ford) or Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) to replicate its current RCR relationship.
At Ford, Truex would be de-facto teammates with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, who each own a win this season and won a combined 11 times in 2014. With Toyota, whom Truex is familiar with from his time with MWR, he would work with JGR’s deep roster that includes Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin.
“It may involve a change in manufacturer, we’re not sure,” Visser said. “There just doesn’t seem to be any money out of General Motors and probably never will be for us. Something’s going to have to give. We’ll see where it goes. We’re as happy with Martin as he is with us and we want to get something done there.”
Visser is also reluctant to begin negotiations with Truex for fear of distracting from what has been a special season. When the Furniture Row opened talks with Busch two years ago, Visser says it affected the results on the track.
“We just don’t need to screw around with anything right now, anything that will upset the apple cart,” Visser said. “We’ll get it done. We’ll get started with this stuff.”
Most years the tact of waiting could prove risky, giving another team ample opportunity to lure Truex away. But this season might be the exception with a limited number of quality rides available elsewhere.
Four-car powerhouses JGR, SHR and Hendrick all but have their 2016 driver lineups set. (Though there is modicum uncertainty involving Danica Patrick’s status at SHR with her contract up and sponsor GoDaddy already stating it’s withdrawing from NASCAR.)
The alliance between RCR and Furniture Row precludes RCR from courting Truex. And although MWR has an opening, Truex returning makes little sense. The two-car team is struggling badly, not to mention the hurt feelings that still exist pertaining to the circumstances involving Truex’s departure.
Roush Fenway Racing hasn’t courted a big-name free agent since signing Jamie McMurray in 2006, a move that proved to be disastrous. Roush now prefers to develop from within and promote young drivers to any open Sprint Cup seats. And like most everywhere, sponsorship and funding would need to materialize to make any deal come together.
But Truex would prefer not to go anywhere — and likely won’t. He’s been able to put a difficult 2014 season, personally and professionally, behind him and has quickly bonded with first-year crew chief Cole Pearn. His hope is Sunday’s victory will spur contract talks and also encourage a company to come onboard.
“Honestly, it’s so relaxed and so much fun that I really want to do everything I can to keep this group together because I think there’s so much more we can do,” Truex said. “To see what this team has accomplished so early this season has been amazing. For sure, it’s something I’d like to keep going for a long time.”
Just about every element is present for Furniture Row to carry its early season success into the future. Its fleet of cars is fast, Truex can win on just about any kind of track, while Pearn has shown to be a very good crew chief, who will only get better with experience.
The only missing piece to puzzle is sponsorship, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, in this puzzle that also happens to be the biggest piece.