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.”
“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.”