Barney Visser

Martin Truex Jr. heads to Miami looking to cap off career-best year with Cup title

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The 35-race preamble is over for the Cup Series and Martin Truex Jr.

After dominating all season in almost every statistical category, Truex now knows who he has to fend off to win the Cup title .

The Furniture Row Racing driver will face Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The 37-year-old driver stands out among the group. He’s the only one without a Cup title.

“That means it’s my turn,” Truex said.

The No. 78 team heads into the race after finishing third at Phoenix.

Truex placed in the top three in all three Round of 8 races. Those three top fives give him a season-high 18. Keselowski is tied with Denny Hamlin for second with 15.

Among those top fives for Truex are a series- and career-best seven wins.

“Definitely excited about the position we’re in, to go to Homestead,” Truex said “Feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum, we’ve got a lot of consistency in our team, and doing all the right things right now. ”

With a series-best 19 stage wins and 2,175 laps led, Truex is the statistical favorite heading into the Ford EcoBoost 400. The season finale is held at a 1.5-mile track. Truex has earned six of his seven wins on similar tracks.

“If I’m the favorite, perfect, I like that,” Truex said. “I think it’s a better position to be in.  I was the underdog before (in 2015) and I finished fourth, so yeah, bring it on.”

Truex will try to capture his first Cup title in his 12th full-time season. Keselowski’s title (2012) was in his third season, Busch’s in his 11th season (2015) and Harvick’s title came in his 14th (2014).

“I don’t think it’s any extra pressure at all,” Truex said. “I have a lot of respect for all three of these guys. Two of them were in the Final Four when I made it in 2015 (Busch and Harvick). Definitely have a little bit of experience in this position, but you know, honestly just excited about the opportunity. I feel like we’re in a whole lot better spot as a team than we were the first time we had a shot at it, and we’re going to go out there and just do the best job we can do.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our team right now and what we’re doing, and I think today was a perfect example of that for us, so just keep doing what we’re doing, go down to Miami and just have fun and do what we know how to do. Do the best job we possibly can and hopefully come out on top.”

If Truex does take the title, he will do it without the presence of team owner Barney Visser at the track.

Visser is recovering from bypass surgery on Nov. 6, two days after he suffered a heart attack. Truex said he had been home since Friday.

“It’s definitely a bummer,” Truex said. “For a long time he thought he was bad luck because we only won when he was not here. So if we do win it next weekend and he’s not there, he may never show up again.”

 

Furniture Row Racing will return to being a single-car team in 2018

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After a few months of speculation, Furniture Row Racing will contract to a single-car organization in NASCAR’s premier series next season.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, team owner Barney Visser confirmed the move, which he had been hinting at since July. Visser has said a lack of sponsorship next year might preclude fielding the No. 77, which has been driven by rookie Erik Jones this season. It was the first time since its inception over a decade ago that Visser’s Denver-based team had fielded two Cup cars.

In 2018, Jones will return to Joe Gibbs Racing.

That will leave Martin Truex Jr.‘s No. 78 Toyota as the lone entry next year for Furniture Row Racing. Here’s the statement from Visser:

As Furniture Row Racing looks ahead to the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season, the Denver, Colo. based team is not planning to field the No. 77 Toyota as a second car entry. It is our organization’s goal to operate a two-car team in the future and we will continue to seek sponsorship funding for the No. 77. Our 100 percent focus for next season will be on the No 78 Toyota Camry, which will be driven by Martin Truex Jr.

Furniture Row Racing sells charter from No. 77 car for next season

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JOLIET, Illinois — Furniture Row Racing has sold its charter for the No. 77 team for next year but is still looking for sponsorship to run the car in 2018.

Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, said the team sold the charter — he declined to name what team purchased it — because of lack of sponsorship for the No. 77 team next year.

“We’re still working on obtaining sponsorship,’’ Garone said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. “If something happens in the next few weeks, it’s definitely not dead. We definitely want to keep the 77 running, but we’re running out of time.’’

Garone concedes the chances of the organization being a single-car team next year are “high.’’

Even without a charter, a team can run in the series. Any team that has a charter must run every race. If they skip a race, they lose the charter immediately and the financial benefits that go with it.

Garone acknowledged that if the team found sponsorship to run the car for the full season, there would be the opportunity to lease or buy a charter from another team.

Garone said Furniture Row Racing will not lay off any employes if it contracts to one car next season. A couple of positions will follow rookie Erik Jones to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. Garone concedes those who work on the road crew and want to continue to do that also could leave.

“We’re hoping everyone will stay,’’ Garone said.

“As far as the shop goes, we’re going to be one really strong single-car team.’’

Garone said that 5-hour Energy will remain with Furniture Row Racing and would move to the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr.

Garone said team owner Barney Visser is not interested in running a second car in a limited number of races next year.

“If the 77 runs … it will be running for a championship, not just a partial (season),’’ Garone said.

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Long: Sign of the times – Young drivers are in, veterans are on their way out

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Whether 19-year-old William Byron is ready for Cup doesn’t matter. He’ll be there next year for Hendrick Motorsports because he fills a need.

He’s young, talented and less expensive than a veteran driver.

So Kasey Kahne is out and Byron is in. That’s not the only such move for next season. Rookie Erik Jones will replace former Cup champion Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing. Alex Bowman takes over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride at Hendrick Motorsports.

Those mirror other moves made in the last few years, creating a seismic shift in the driver lineup — one that hadn’t been seen in nearly half a century.

With Byron’s move to Cup, there will be at least eight drivers 25 and under who are expected take the green flag in next year’s Daytona 500.

They are (with age they’ll be for next year’s 500):

William Byron (age 20)

Erik Jones (21)

Chase Elliott (22)

Ryan Blaney (24)

Alex Bowman (24)

Chris Buescher (25)

Ty Dillon (25)

Kyle Larson (25)

Only this year’s race with 11 drivers age 25 and under and last year’s race at nine have had more young drivers in the field than next year’s race looks to have. The record could be equaled or topped next year with 24-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr., looking for a ride and the possibility that smaller teams may go with young drivers. Nearly half the field for next year’s 500 could feature drivers in their 20s.

This shift toward youth has built since 2014 when there were eight drivers age 25 and under in the Daytona 500 starting lineup. The last time there had been so many young drivers in the “Great American Race” was 1962. That race saw 24-year-old Richard Petty finish second and 22-year-old Cale Yarborough place last in the 48-car field.

The latest changes come as young drivers replace veterans partly because of economics. It’s a shift for car owners, who responded during the recession a decade ago by cutting driver development programs and hiring veterans for lower salaries. The chance to run in Cup ended for many drivers. Those that did run, had little luck. Only one Cup Rookie of the Year from 2008-12 remains in the series (Joey Logano).

Now, as the sport goes through what some refer to as a correction, sponsors are cutting back more. Less money to teams means less money for drivers. Young racers are significantly cheaper.

“You’ve got a lot of young guys coming in being offered and accepting contracts that are a fifth to a tenth of what veterans are getting paid,’’ Earnhardt said last weekend at Watkins Glen International. “That’s money that can go into the team, you know? These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money that they used to. So, the owners and everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back.’’

Furniture Row Racing car owner Barney Visser puts it more succinctly: “I would think that there are going to be a lot of jets sold (by drivers). The money just won’t support what some of these guys have been making. The sponsorship just won’t carry it right now.”

Even for as talented as the new generation is, it’s taken them time to succeed for various reasons. Ty Dillon, Bowman, Elliott and Jones have yet to win a Cup race. Buescher won in his 27th career start. Blaney scored his first victory in his 68th series start. Larson didn’t win until his 100th series start. Austin Dillon’s first win came in his 133rd series start.

“It’s just such a big step altogether that there’s nothing in the Truck or Xfinity Series I think that fully prepares you for what it takes to really be successful at the Cup level,’’ said Jones, whose best finish is third in 25 career Cup starts. “I think it’s been just really a whole year of relearning for me, not really relearning but just learning more about the Cup Series and what it takes and how to race these guys.’’

It’s not as much what happens on the track and what happens off it that has been an adjustment for Jones to Cup.

You get to the Cup Series, your week is slammed, and you don’t really ever experience that when you’re in the Xfinity or the Truck Series,’’ Jones said. “I wish I would have learned to study and prepare more for the weekend because I never really did when I was in Xfinity and Truck. I just kind of learned more about that and still am trying to learn more about that as the year goes on.’’

That’s led to questions about Byron because of his lack of experience — even with the success he’s had. He ran 24 Truck races (winning seven) and he’s run 20 Xfinity races (three wins) so far.

“William, he has surprised us every time he gets in a car,’’ Hendrick said. “My goal is to not to let too much pressure be on him, to let him go out and have fun and learn and we’ll try to get better as an organization. We’ve got Jimmie Johnson … he will be a mentor to all three of them (Byron, Elliott and Bowman). We still have Jeff Gordon involved and Dale Earnhardt is going to be involved.

“They’ve got a lot of coaches. The main thing is just not putting too much pressure on them and let them go out and learn. If William continues to do what he’s done in every series he’s been in, he’ll adapt fine and he’ll learn. You might as well let him learn in what he’s going to be driving for years to come.’’

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Barney Visser on sponsorship of No. 77 car for 2018: ‘We’ve got to find something’

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Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser said the team is searching for sponsorship to continue running the No. 77 car next season but hasn’t found any.

“We’ve got no sponsorship right now for the 77,” Visser told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday. “So we’ve got to find something. We don’t want to give up that car, but if we don’t get sponsorship, we’ll have to. We’re doing everything we can to get that to come together.”

The team added the No. 77 this year for rookie Erik Jones, who signed a one-year contract. Jones will go to Joe Gibbs Racing next season, replacing Matt Kenseth. That leaves an opening with the No. 77 car.

This comes as Martin Truex Jr. has won four races, including last weekend’s event at Watkins Glen International, for Furniture Row Racing and has accumulated enough playoff points that he should go deep into the postseason.

Asked on “The Morning Drive” about the health of the business side of the sport going into 2018, Visser said: “I’d certainly like to see it better. I’m sure if you can run up front you can deliver to the sponsors what you’re promising them. I don’t even know how to answer that question. It’s a pretty tough business right now.”

Visser also noted that Truex doesn’t have as big a salary as many other drivers.

“Martin, he took a real chance and he’s not paid anywhere near as these other guys,” Visser told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Martin is pure athlete. He’s out there because he wants to be out there. That’s just who he is. I’m not saying that he’s not well compensated, but he doesn’t have the kind of base (salary) that these other guys have, the other top runners have.

“He did it because he wanted to run up front. I told him we would put him in the very best equipment we could put out there, and we haven’t backed off on that. He’s delivering for us. We’ve got something going with Martin that has just worked out very well. I can’t speak to what the other guys have got going on, but I would think that there are going to be a lot of jets sold, the money just won’t support what some of these guys have been making. The sponsorship just won’t carry it right now.”

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