Much is new for 2016 at Furniture Row Racing, which will have a new manufacturer, a new means of engine and chassis delivery and a new pit crew.
But one thing hasn’t changed for the Denver-based team that enjoyed a breakthrough 2015 that culminated with reaching the championship round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The expectations are just as high for this season even amidst tumult that could keep the team from realizing its potential until spring.
“I don’t know that we can manage them,” team owner Barney Visser said in an interview with NBC Sports this week. “We just have to live with what happens here. We will be very disappointed if we don’t make the (championship round) this year.”
Among the new elements the team will be adapting to this year:
–Its engines will be shipped via airfreight from Toyota Racing Development headquarters in Costa Mesa, California, instead of trucked in from Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, North Carolina (actually cutting the transport time in half to Furniture Row Racing’s shop in Denver, Colorado).
–The pit crew will be supplied by Joe Gibbs Racing, which has become a technical partner of Furniture Row as Toyota’s flagship team.
–TRD has relocated two of its technicians to Denver for embedding with the team.
As part of its new alliance with JGR, Furniture Row Racing will be using the same chassis as Gibbs but start with an older model before switching a few races into the season – which has Visser slightly concerned.
“That throws everything off,” Visser said. “So it’s going to be kind of a rocky start. I’m expecting a rocky start, but hopefully by May or June, we’ll be rolling again.
Last year, Truex was strong from the outset, scoring top 10s in 14 of the first 15 races and qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a June win at Pocono Raceway.
“By the time we made the Chase, Toyota was tapping us on the back saying, ‘We want you with the Toyota emblems on the car,” Visser said. “They’d been after us for quite some time. When the deal with Michael Waltrip Racing fell apart (the team announced its impending closure in August), they got real serious about it. That was a big deal for us.
“Getting that deal put together with Gibbs and Toyota was very helpful to get that done. We’re very happy to be the No. 2 team at Toyota. I think we were fifth in line with the Chevrolet thing. Chevrolet spends their money very well, but it just wasn’t coming in our direction.”
With Bass Pro Shops as a primary sponsor on Truex’s No. 78 for several races this season, the team has corporate sponsorship independent of Visser’s furniture business for the first time. Visser hints that prospects are solid for expanding to a second car next season.
“There’s some things going on that I can’t really talk about right now, but we’re excited about the possibility of a second car that Toyota may bring to us,” he said. “We’ll see.”