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.”

‘How can we be upset?’: Ross Chastain discusses losing Ganassi ride, hopeful future

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Ross Chastain received word of the events “out west,” he knew the loss of his full-time Xfinity Series ride with Chip Ganassi Racing was “inevitable.”

The events were the Dec. 18 dual raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in California on the headquarters of DC Solar, Ganassi’s primary Xfinity sponsor, and the home of the company’s CEO, Jeff Carpoff.

Seventeen days later, Ganassi made it official. The biggest opportunity of Chastain’s NASCAR career was gone roughly two months after it had been announced due to a lack of sponsorship.

Chastain, who turned 26 in December, made his first public appearance in a month on Friday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There, he announced plans to compete part-time for Niece Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, beginning with the season opener at Daytona.

“Early on there was a couple of dark days following everything that went down. I’m not going to shy away from it,” Chastain told reporters before later clarifying himself. “It wasn’t dark, that’s probably going to come across wrong when you write it down now that I think about that. I don’t want people to get the wrong impression, but it was a big deal.

“(The Carpoffs) did a lot for me. They changed my life. I’ll forever be thankful for them and Chip (Ganassi) and Felix (Sabates) … and everybody involved with CGR and all the people in the office, they still stand behind me, I’m still tied to them, I’m still working for them.”

Chastain said he hasn’t been in contact with the Carpoffs since the FBI raids.

“Chip and (Chief Operating Officer) Doug Duchardt, they tried everything they could to keep that deal going,” Chastain said. “Talked to Chip back-and-forth throughout the process … it was going to affect so many people and so many mechanics and crew guys on that, including me.

“He knew that and it affected him. He was the ultimate loser here in Charlotte for it. Nobody wanted it to happen, man. We think we know what we could accomplish or what we were going to shoot for and the cards that were laying out on the table of what we could do in 2019, but it’s just not how it was intended to happen.”

While he won’t be driving the No. 42 for CGR in 2019, he’s still under contract with the team and said Ganassi himself calls “every now and then to make sure I’m doing ok.”

So what did Chastain do during a holiday season where his career was upended through no fault of his own?

He went home.

Chastain spent Christmas and New Years clearing his head on his family’s watermelon farm in Alva, Florida.

“Spent a lot of time at the farm on a tractor,” Chastain said. “Leaving my phone in the truck. Get on the tractor and a couple of days of that will make you appreciate the life I do get to live and I knew I wasn’t done racing. I was just going to change my schedule for this year. Family was really good.  It kind of made us all even closer.”

The time was also spent reflecting on everything that has transpired in the last half-year.

“If you would have told me six months ago, right, that I was going to drive for Chip Ganassi, I was going to win a race (at Las Vegas), I was going to finish second in a race (at Richmond) and I was going to crash – for the win – in a race (at Darlington) with a very high-profile driver (Kevin Harvick) and he was going to say a bunch of bad things about me and I was going to come back the next race in that car and win? I would have told you you were crazy. …

“We talked through all that and realized ‘Man, what we would have given six months ago to have all this happen,'” Chastain said. “‘How can we be upset?'”

While Chastain had been silent, including on social media, since the day before the raids, other NASCAR drivers have been in touch with him. That includes Elliott Sadler, who tweeted about Chastain on Jan. 7 after talking with him.

“Elliott has probably been the biggest one through all this,” Chastain said. “I don’t get along with many drivers. Me and him connect on a lot of things. … He was just like, ‘Yeah, it’s terrible, but you’re going to get through it. You have a future’ and that’s what he kept saying.

“He said he’s been here long enough to see it. It’s going to work out. You’ve just got to believe. I was already back on track, digging on this year when I talked to Elliott and he sent that tweet out. His biggest thing was ‘Just believe. Know it’s going to work out. I’ve seen this before. Nobody could see this coming. You didn’t do anything wrong.’ It’s head down and dig.

“He’s been really instrumental in staying on me to make sure I’m doing that.”

When it comes to who Chastain will dig deep for in races this year, Chastain said there are restrictions Ganassi has on who he can compete for that are still being worked out.

His deal with Niece Motorsports, who he made three starts for last year, was not a result of the Ganassi closure and had been in the works for months. He’ll share the No. 45 Chevrolet with Reid Wilson.

In addition to his truck ride, Chastain plans to compete full-time in Cup with Premium Motorsports in the No. 15 Chevrolet while declaring for points in the Xfinity Series.

That way he can compete in any Xfinity and Truck races in the playoffs, when all Cup drivers are banned from competition in those series.

Chastain did not reveal who he has “hand shakes galore” with in the Xfinity Series, but that he plans to compete in all three points races at Daytona in February. He does anticipate racing at some point this season with JD Motorsports, the Xfinity team he raced full-time for from 2015-2017 and all but three races in 2018.

“However many races we end up at we’ll be great,” Chastain said. “I’m getting to run, getting paid to drive in NASCAR and that was my dream growing up.”

Despite having multiple opportunities to race this season, the question was raised whether last year’s feel-good story has been set back in a way that could harm his hopes of marketing himself for a top-tier ride after 2019.

“People are going to think what they want to think if it set me back or not,” Chastain said. “We’re writing our own story for how this is going to work out.”

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Chad Knaus admits he’ll likely think he’s still with Jimmie Johnson’s team when season begins

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For perhaps the first few races of the 2019 Cup season, Chad Knaus may need a road map of both the garage area and pit road as a reminder he’s no longer with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, but rather in his new role as crew chief of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team with driver William Byron.

“Look, I had 18 years of working on that 48 car, so I guarantee I’m going to walk into the wrong transporter,” Knaus said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “At some point, I’m probably going to key up the radio and start to say ‘Jimmie,’ by accident.”

He then added with a laugh: “I may look at the 48 as it rolls down the front straightaway periodically and get confused, but hell, I’m getting old, so I get confused anyhow. So, that’s just going to be part of life.”

After 17 seasons with Jimmie Johnson, Knaus will be on the pit box of the No. 24 and with driver William Byron in 2019.

Knaus admits regularly referring to Johnson, with whom he won a NASCAR record-tying seven championships and 83 races in 612 starts together, is a hard habit to break..

“As we’re going through and setting rosters and doing our car lineups and what not, I’ve caught myself no less than at least 1,500 times, saying ‘On the 48, we want this,’” Knaus said. “It’s definitely a reality.

“But quite frankly, it’s a good thing. I’ve always been a 24 guy at heart, always. All the really productive years of my career began when I came to Hendrick Motorsports and began working with Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham back in 1993.

“To be able to wear that badge again is really exciting to me. It’s really kind of a homecoming for me. I’ve always had that passion for the 24 and always been a fan of that. So I’m excited to be back and be a part of it.”

As for working with Byron, Knaus admits it will be an interesting change, with Knaus being more of an old-school crew chief, while Byron is more of a new-age race car driver.

“The ability is there (but) it’s definitely different,” he said. “When you get yourselves into positions of a guy like myself or Ray (Evernham) … in the contemporary term of mechanical engineer, being very good at algebra, algorithms, material properties and things of that nature, you have to dig in deeper.

“The days that have come in by old school racer knowledge to really make things happen have kind of passed us to a degree. But, and the big but is, that isn’t necessarily what makes a good crew chief nowadays. What does make a good crew chief nowadays is to be able to come up with is good practical racer knowledge and convey that to the people that can make things happen.

“That’s kind of how I’ve started to approach things over the last couple years and it’s starting to show fruit from my perspective. So yeah, there are things you can do. The one thing that has remained consistent is we’re trying to get from the start/finish line back to the start/finish line as fast as you possibly can. That is a fundamental problem in our sport. And if you can do that, faster than anybody else, you’re going to be successful.”

While Knaus admits he’ll miss working with Johnson, the challenge of working with Byron has reinvigorated him.

“It’s definitely lit a fire back in me that I wouldn’t say died, but maybe helps transforms me into a more aggressive approach, which is definitely what we need,” Knaus said.

As for Daytona, Knaus can see Johnson win his third 500 — and a lot more with new crew chief Kevin Meendering.

Knaus says it would be “awesome” if Johnson can win a third Daytona 500, but also has high goals for Byron, as well.

“Jimmie Johnson’s going to go out there and win races with Kevin Meendering, period, 100 percent,” Knaus said. “Is he going to win the Daytona 500? I sure as heck hope so. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

“I love Jimmie like a brother. I hadn’t seen him since the end of last season. We saw each other at the shop two days ago and we gave each other a big old hug. My goal and our goal at Hendrick Motorsports is to have four teams that are capable of going out there and battling for wins and are in a position to battle for championships every single race and every single year. I feel that William has the ability to do that.”

While he’s not putting any pressure on Byron, Knaus definitely has Johnson-like goals for his young driver.

“The goal is to win the Daytona 500 and sit on the pole and win the 150 and we’re the fastest in practice and led every lap,” Knaus said. “That’s the goal. But the reality is it’s going to take a little time.”

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Jamie McMurray to race in Daytona 500 with Spire Motorsports

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Spire Motorsports announced Friday that 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray will drive the No. 40 car in this year’s Daytona 500.

The Chevrolet Camaro will have branding from Bass Pro Shops, McDonald’s and Cessna, which have all had an affiliation with McMurray. The effort will be done in partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The Daytona 500 is the one race that every NASCAR driver would want to win,” McMurray said in a statement from the team. “For the rest of your life you get to be introduced or recognized as a Daytona 500 champion. I’m excited to have the opportunity to potentially be a two-time winner of the race and it would mean so much to celebrate one more win with all of the great partners that have been with me for so many years.”

Spire Motorsports is a new entry to the Cup Series this year. Spire Sports + Entertainment executives Jeff Dickerson and TJ Puchyr purchased the charter from Furniture Row Racing after last season. The team will field the No. 77 the rest of the season but is using the No. 40 for this race. That’s the car number McMurray drove at the beginning of his Cup career in 2002. The charter ensures McMurray a starting spot in the 500.

The team also announced that Joe Garone, who was President of Furniture Row Racing, will have that same role for this team, which will be based in Mooresville, North Carolina.

McMurray completed his 16th season last year. Kurt Busch is taking over the No. 1 ride McMurray had the past nine seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray has seven career Cup victories. McMurray is one of three drivers to have won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season, joining Dale Jarrett (1996) and Jimmie Johnson (2006). McMurray accomplished the feat in 2010.

McMurray will be a Fox Sports analyst this year and have a role at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Fire Alarm Services continues sponsorship of John Hunter Nemechek

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GMS Racing announced Friday that John Hunter Nemechek will continue to be sponsored by Fire Alarm Services in 2019.

Nemechek, who will drive the No. 23 Chevrolet full-time, will be backed by Fire Alarm Services in 13 Xfinity races.

FAS has been a supporter of Nemechek since 2016.

FAS will be on the No. 23 Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway (spring and fall), Auto Club Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway (spring and fall), Darlington Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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FAS was on Nemechek’s car last year when he won his first Xfinity Series race in October at Kansas Speedway with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I couldn’t be more excited to continue this relationship with them in 2019,” Nemechek said in a press release. “I am super thankful and blessed that Shannon and Connie Smith, owners of Fire Alarm Services, Inc., believe in me and my career. They have been a staple in various first accomplishments for me, and I hope we can add an Xfinity Series Championship on to that list of firsts.”

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