Martin Truex Jr. gives his side of Furniture Row Racing’s demise

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LAS VEGAS – Put aside the rumblings about tension with Joe Gibbs Racing, Martin Truex Jr. believes the impending closure of Furniture Row Racing essentially was about time.

If the exit of 5-hour Energy had been known in mid-April instead of mid-July, the defending series champion says his No. 78 Toyota wouldn’t be entering the stretch run of its final season.

“We just basically got put in a really bad time crunch,” Truex said Thursday at the NASCAR Playoff Media Day. “I think had we had three months, we probably could have put it all together and made it happen. We just got put in a really bad spot on timing.

“We couldn’t get everything done in four weeks, find $10 million and put it all together.”

In his first expansive public comments about owner Barney Visser’s decision to shutter his NASCAR team after a 13-year run, Truex put a brave face on the No. 78’s 10 remaining races to defend its title (“I feel like we’re in a great place”) and explained the underlying reasons for its surprising demise.

In the release announcing Furniture Row Racing’s shutdown, the team cited “the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing” as a factor that exacerbated the budget deficit for 2019 after losing a multimillion-dollar sponsorship.

In switching to Toyota Racing Development as its engine supplier and manufacturer in 2016, Furniture Row Racing also entered a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, which has supplied Truex’s chassis. Truex consistently has outrun every Gibbs driver but Kyle Busch since then, scoring 16 victories.

That’s prompted questions about whether Gibbs jacked up the price as a countermeasure for being outperformed. Gibbs officials privately have denied that claim, suggesting it was difficult to determine the initial three-year cost of the alliance, and that an escalation in fees was natural.

Truex denied that his sterling results might have triggered the sort of gouging that occurs in other businesses in which a supplier indirectly forces a competitive client out of business with a financial squeeze.

“That has nothing to do with the situation we got in,” Truex said. “We were trying to put together, finish up a long-term deal to keep the same things going, and a sponsor pulled out. We didn’t have enough money suddenly, and we didn’t have enough time to find it to fill that void. Barney had no way to agree to do those things and keep them going without the money coming in, because there was no way he could make it work. So it’s really as simple as that. It was nothing to do with who was running this and who was running that and who was winning and who wasn’t.”

Truex said those who are whispering otherwise “just don’t know the story, and they are obviously just upset about things, and that’s understandable. But at the end of the day, it’s just not factual.”

He also rebuffed comparisons to the alliance between Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing, which dissolved after an awkward final year in 2016 when SHR announced a move to Ford.

“I don’t think there was ever any hard feelings between either of the teams,” Truex said of Gibbs and Furniture Row Racing. “I thought everything, no matter how we did or how the other team did, I always felt like it was a great situation for us to be in, and obviously here we sit with the opportunity to win another championship, and I don’t feel like it’s any different than the first year we raced together, so I think it can work.”

What did change and have an impact on Furniture Row Racing was Visser’s outlook on life after surviving a heart attack and winning a championship.

Truex said the confluence of both events probably made it easier for the Denver-based owner to walk away from NASCAR.

“In talking to him, he mentioned that, so obviously it’s on his mind,” Truex said. “He’s thought about it. He’s got a huge family, lots of grandkids, loves spending time with them, and I think some of that or part of that made it easier. More time to spend with them, a lot less stress, a lot less to worry about making sure all the money’s coming in, and we’re getting what we need.

“It takes so much to keep these race teams going, especially a small team like ours with the way we were having to do things. It was a high stress level. But from what I gather working with him for this long and talking to him, he cares more about the people. I think it’s really what kept him going, it’s what kept him spending. Being able to see him bring in these guys and give them this huge opportunity and see them thrive in that situation and take advantage of those opportunities. To go through all that and win a championship, I felt like now his biggest thought is, ‘How do I make sure these guys can keep going? How do I help them land in a good spot?’ For him, he says, ‘For all you guys, this is a career. For me, it’s just a hobby.’ I think through all the stuff he’s been through, it probably helped him make the decision or be at peace with it a little bit.”

Truex said he has “no concern” about losing any key team members before the end of the season as Furniture Row Racing’s 61 employees continue to prepare cars while hunting for future work. He also believes the uncertainty will serve as a rallying cry instead of a distraction.

“I feel like we definitely want to repeat, no question about it,” he said. “I think you can take it one of two ways. You can hang your head down and say, ‘This sucks, why are we in this position’ and get mad at the world, or you can look at each other and say, ‘Let’s go do this.’

“I feel like that’s where we’re at. Barney gave us the opportunity to work there at a great place. Gave us all the tools we needed to go win a championship. So I think all of us, we look at that and say, ‘Hell yeah, let’s go do this. Let’s send Barney out on top. Let’s give him the best going away gift that we ever could.’ I honestly, truly feel that is our mindset and that’s our focus. And I have no questions about where our team is and how they’re going to approach the playoffs.”

Long: A sigh of relief punctuates the end of Daytona Speedweeks

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — When it was over, when a Daytona Speedweeks that featured outrage and exhilaration saw its final checkered flag, there was little euphoria, many anxious moments and eventually a sigh of relief.

Confusion and concern reigned on pit road after Ryan Newman’s horrific crash at the end of Monday night’s Daytona 500. Racing for the win, Newman’s car slammed into the wall before the start/finish line, was struck while upside down by Corey LaJoie’s car and slid down the track, a shower of sparks trailing, before coming to rest beyond the exit of pit road.

A conversation on one team’s radio said Newman was out of the car, but others on pit road said he was not. With drivers and teams parked closer to pit entrance after the race, no one could tell what was happening at the other end of pit road.

Safety crews needed more than 10 minutes to roll Newman’s car over, attend to him and cut the crumpled roof off to extricate the 42-year-old father of two.

Moments earlier, Ryan Blaney pushed Newman past Denny Hamlin into the lead on the backstretch of the final lap. Blaney attempted to pass on the frontstretch, but Newman blocked. Blaney realized he was going to finish second and wanted to ensure a Ford won, so he pushed Newman. But one bump unsettled Newman’s car, triggering the incident.

Afterward, Blaney stood with his crew by his car on pit road for several minutes but little was said. They waited to hear about Newman’s condition. As many did.

When he talked to the media, Blaney’s face was ashen and his eyes blank as he recounted a last lap he’d like to forget but likely never will.

“I hope he’s alright,” Blaney said. “That looked really bad. Definitely unintentional. … Just waiting to see if he’s OK.”

As he spoke, an ambulance sped past, taking Newman to Halifax Health Medical Center.

Until the end of the Daytona 500, Speedweeks had provided its fill of drama, intrigue and bliss.

It started with the Busch Clash the week before where all 18 cars were involved in an at least one accident and winner Erik Jones was collected in three incidents. The main story that day, though, was Brad Keselowski’s  anger toward teammate Joey Logano for an accident that collected both and Kyle Busch.

A few days later the focus returned to racing. Logano won his qualifying race and William Byron won his qualifying race, his first Cup victory at Daytona. But Daniel Suarez suffered heartbreak when he was involved in a crash and failed to qualify for the 500.

The following night saw Jordan Anderson finish second by one-hundredth of a second, but he celebrated as if he won. The 28-year-old has raced in the Truck series most of the past five years but it hasn’t been easy. He has often pulled his truck in a dually and struggled to find funding. He sold equipment to help keep his team going in the offseason and purchase the truck he ran at Daytona.

After finishing second, Anderson couldn’t stop smiling.

“This finish tonight … is for every underdog in America, every kid that stays up late and works on his dirt late model or legends car and dreams of coming to Daytona,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, this finish tonight encourages them to never give up on their dreams.”

Less than 24 hours later, Noah Gragson was burning up the track. Literally.

Gragson celebrated his first Xfinity win with an extended burnout that had some rubber burning on the track.

“I caught the track on fire,” the 21-year-old driver for JR Motorsports said. “I thought that always would be really, really cool to catch the track on fire from doing a burnout, and I was able to do that.”

A Sunday filled with sunshine started with Air Force One delivering President Donald J. Trump. He spoke briefly to fans. They serenaded him with chants of “U-S-A!” He gave the command to start engines and his motorcade led the field on a pace lap, something never before done in a race. But rain delayed the start and the electricity that had built faded when the field only got 20 laps in before a second rain delay postponed the race to Monday.

Sunday’s energy grew through a late Monday afternoon under sunny and warm conditions. Crashes reduced the field but still left enough cars to create a dramatic win for Hamlin.

But that was overshadowed by Newman’s wreck.

And all the waiting.

Fans left the track without knowing Newman’s condition. Those at the track stood around. Nobody knew.

Informed of the severity of Newman’s crash, Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing muted their victory lane activities. A somber atmosphere hung over the track.

It was a stark reminder of how dangerous racing can be, something many have overlooked as they’ve applauded countless drivers who emerged with no serious injuries from high-flying cars that tumbled and rolled. It also showed how far safety has come in NASCAR since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in 2001.

Two hours after Newman’s ambulance ride, the news came.

He was alive.

And a sigh of relief filled a silent racetrack.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends celebration by Denny Hamlin, No. 11 team

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NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. defended Denny Hamlin and his team’s celebration after winning Monday’s Daytona 500 as safety crews attended to Ryan Newman after Newman’s last-lap accident.

Hamlin and said he didn’t know the severity of Newman’s accident immediately. Car owner Joe Gibbs said the team muted their festivities in victory lane after they found out more about Newman’s situation.  

“I say to everybody out there, some people may have saw us and said, well, these guys are celebrating when there’s a serious issue going on,” Gibbs said. “I apologize to everybody, but we really didn’t know.”

Earnhardt, speaking on Tuesday’s NASCAR America, said he understood what Hamlin and his team were going through. He spoke on the 19th anniversary of his father’s fatal crash in the last lap of the Daytona 500.

“That was just so unfortunate the fallout from that,” Earnhardt said of criticism directed toward the No. 11 team for its celebrating. “I think back to 2001 when dad had his accident and Michael Waltrip had made it all the way to victory lane himself and celebrating what he feels like was the most incredible moment of his life and waiting on dad to walk right into that victory lane at any moment to celebrate with him.

“I think I can tell you … how that process can happen, how what happened with Denny and his team can easily happen. There’s a lot of other similar situations that are much like that to compare that to that make it understandable to what played out with Denny and his team.”

Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday night that Newman was in serious condition with injuries not considered life threatening. The team announced Tuesday that Newman was awake and speaking with family members and doctors. He remains at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“I just can’t stop thinking about Ryan and waiting on more news and more information and when we can see him, when can we physically talk to Ryan and put our own eyes on him and get a chance to see how he’s doing,” Earnhardt said on NASCAR America.

Earnhardt won two Daytona 500s among the 10 points races he won at Daytona and Talladega. He was asked on the show about how aggressive a driver has to be to win the Daytona 500.

“I always had the most success by always trying to lead the race and it’s not physically possible to lead every single lap … I felt like that was the best defense to being involved in an accident, to being caught up in something in the middle of the pack,” Earnhardt said.

“I tried every different way to run those plate races. For me, that was always the most effective approach. It starts when you show up to the racetrack. You’ve got to be that way in practice. You’ve got to go out there, and you might tick some people off in practice that you’re so aggressive, but you’ve got to show them this is how I’m going to race. On top of that, this is what my car can do, so when the green flag drops you see my car pull out, you have confidence to follow it because you’ve seen what it can do all weekend.

“When I approached the entire race that way and the weekend that way, I really, really had a lot of success with it. Sometimes it doesn’t always work and then you start thinking maybe I’ll take a different route, maybe I’m going to sit in the back and try to take care of myself and maybe work my way up through there late in the race. You start trying different things and maybe you think you need to rethink your entire strategy, but I was always coming back around to being aggressive and having a lot of success with that.

“The only problem with that is it’s hard to do. It’s hard to push yourself to work that hard every foot of the racetrack, every straightaway, every turn, every opportunity, every run the car gets, every opportunity presented to do something with that car, it’s hard to stay on the wheel the entire race because everybody at some point has to take a break, some sort of mental break. I think the ones that can sustain that sort of tenacity and fierce competitiveness has success there.

“You see the same guys up toward the front of those races year after year. I even said it before the end of the race, Denny Hamlin, if he’s not the winner, he’s in the picture when they cross the finish line at a lot of these races at Daytona and Talladega. He proved it again that he’s one of the best. I didn’t know whether he had lost the race or not down the backstraightaway. Somehow or another he never gave up.

“If he wasn’t going to win, he was pushing somebody to the win and he put himself back in the situation of where he ends up getting the checkered flag. That attitude of never quitting, never giving up, working to try to get to the front every single inch of the racetrack is, I think, similar to Denny and what makes him so good.”

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Las Vegas

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No driver is listed for Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford on NASCAR’s preliminary entry list for Sunday’s Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car is normally driven by Ryan Newman, who is in serious condition with non-life threatening injuries after his last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 Monday night. Roush Fenway Racing announced Tuesday afternoon that Newman was awake and speaking with family and doctors.

If Newman does not participate in the race, it would be the first Cup event he’s missed since the start of his full-time career in 2002 (649 starts).

There are 38 entries for Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

Garrett Smithley is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford for his first race of the year.

Reed Sorenson is entered in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet.

Joey Logano won this race last year over Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Martin Truex Jr. won the playoff race over Kevin Harvick and Keselowski.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity Series – Boyd Gaming 300 (4 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

Thirty-six cars are entered.

Truck Series driver Brett Moffitt is entered in Our Motorsports’ No. 02 Chevrolet.

Daniel Hemric will make his first start of the year in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Timmy Hill is entered in Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 61 Toyota.

Kyle Busch won this race last year over John Hunter Nemechek and Noah Gragson. Tyler Reddick won the playoff race over Christopher Bell and Brandon Jones.

Click here for the entry list.

Truck Series – Strat 200 (9 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 35 trucks entered.

With a full field limited to 32 trucks, three will not make the race.

Kyle Busch is entered in the No. 51 Toyota for his first of five scheduled Truck Series races this year.

Ross Chastain is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 40 Toyota.

Busch won this race last year over Moffitt and Matt Crafton. Busch went on to sweep all five of his series starts last season. Austin Hill won the playoff race over Chastain and Christian Eckes.

Click here for the entry list.

 

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Latest on Ryan Newman, Daytona 500

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NASCAR America will have the latest on Ryan Newman after his crash at the end of Monday’s Daytona 500.

Krista Voda hosts and will be joined by Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Nate Ryan. The show will include reports from Marty Snider in Daytona Beach and Dave Burns from Roush Fenway Racing.

Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also will call in.

Today’s show airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.