Martin Truex Jr. & Co. hold Cup racing clinic at Kentucky Speedway
By Rick Minter
As their dominating win at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night showed, driver Martin Truex Jr., crew chief Cole Pearn and the entire No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team are finding success in ways that few folks in NASCAR thought possible.
The team is based in Denver, Colorado, far from the NASCAR mecca just north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
For years, the conventional thinking was that a team couldn’t be a top-tier organization unless it was located in the Charlotte area.
Before then, organizations like the Wood Brothers, from Stuart, Virginia, and the Elliott Brothers from Dawsonville, Georgia, dominated racing with teams based in their respective hometowns. But eventually, both moved to Charlotte to be nearer a good supply of mechanical talent and racing technology.
Furniture Row owner Barney Visser decided to go back to the original Wood/Elliott model and keep his team near his hometown.
So far, it’s working, despite the obvious problems caused by geography — like the long road trips required by the team hauler and the quick turnarounds needed to prepare cars for upcoming races.
Pearn said there are obstacles to be overcome, but there also are opportunities to capitalize on the situation.
“It’s difficult at times,” he said in the winner’s interview at Kentucky. “I feel like a lot of times we’re hanging on by a thread, but it’s just the way it is.
“We’ve got a group out there … we’ve been together for a while, and we’ve been through the lows and we’ve sucked, and we’ve had those moments where it’s tested all of us.
“But when you stick together and you’re all out there, you’re not worrying about somebody running down the street to go to a different place for a better deal. It just breeds a lot of chemistry. It breeds family, actually. … “When you get everybody committed and a group of people like that committed to the same goal, it’s a unique opportunity for sure.”
The biggest challenge, crew chief Pearn said, is getting cars to the tracks on time, since their trip is often several days longer than for most teams in Charlotte.
“Our Mondays and Tuesdays are pretty much ‘hair on fire’ most weeks,” he said. “So it’s amazing sometimes, I feel like, [that] we make it to the race track, but when we do, we’re generally good.”
Then there’s the blossoming of Truex, who appeared to be out of good career options at his previous team, Michael Waltrip Racing, when he lost his sponsor at the end of the 2013 season.
It’s been a big turnaround for Truex, as the driver himself acknowledged.
“Five years ago, I thought my career was over,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have an awesome bunch of people around me from top to bottom, and honestly, this team I’m with now, it was my only option at one point, and I thought: ‘Oh, man, we’ll see what we can do with it,’ and here we are.”
Saturday’s win, Truex’s third of the season and 10th of his career, came on a night in which he had the dominant car, winning the first two stages and surviving a late-race restart with far older tires than his challengers.
Truex led a race-high 152 laps and was ahead by a 15-second margin, just half a lap away from the white flag, when Kurt Busch’s blown rear gear set up an overtime finish.
Truex stayed on the track and kept the lead despite having more than 50 laps on his tires. His challengers, including Kyle Busch, teammate Erik Jones and Kyle Larson stopped for fresh rubber. But on the restart, Truex used a bump by Larson to take the lead and sped away. He was comfortably ahead when another caution ended the race at that point.
“I was surprised that once we got clear down into Turn One that I could actually pull away from those guys,” Truex said. “I thought I was going to have my hands full trying to hold them off, even if we did get to Turn One with the lead, but fortunately we were able to hold them off, so that was pretty awesome.”
Larson took the runner-up spot over Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.