Martin Truex Jr. on the end: ‘It sucks. It hurts. It’s terrible. I hate it’

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – There were no tears shed as Martin Truex Jr. climbed from his No. 78 Toyota after the final ride of Furniture Row Racing.

About a half-dozen team members in orange and black firesuits stood wearily nearby with mostly sullen faces and exchanged some handshakes, hugs and shoulder pats. Crew chief Cole Pearn clapped Truex on the left shoulder and had a measured conversation with his driver about everything that transpired over the past three hours. Team owner Barney Visser wasn’t at the car but was described by Pearn as “just his normal solemn self; not much emotion.”

But the feelings still were raw for the team that nearly left NASCAR on top.

“It sucks,” said Truex, whose voice did quaver a few times in a NBC interview after finishing second Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his bid for consecutive championships in the last start for his Denver-based team. “Yeah, it sucks.

“It sucks. It hurts. It’s terrible. I hate it. I wish we could go on and race 10 more years together, but we can’t.”

After a late-night flight to the Rocky Mountains, life would begin anew for the 62 members of Furniture Row Racing (and perhaps with harsh realities for at least a third of the team). There are cars and equipment to be liquidated, houses to be sold and families to be moved (which is why so many tears were shed last week after its hauler was packed a final time and dispatched to the season finale).

The little team that could from Colorado then will disperse to all corners of the country with many of its plucky employees probably still wondering what could have been if not for a fateful late caution in South Florida.

“No question, we had the car to beat, but if you don’t lead the last lap, it doesn’t matter what you got,” said Truex, who actually led only 20 laps (the fewest of the four championship contenders) but whose car clearly was strongest over full green-flag runs of 30 laps or more. “We fought hard. We played the right strategy. We kept getting it better and better and on the long runs, that thing was nasty. We’d kill them. That was cool. But it didn’t come down to that tonight.”

Like it does so often at the 1.5-mile oval with massive tire wear, the Ford Ecoboost 400 came down to a late caution flag. Until the yellow flew with 20 laps remaining for contact involving the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski (Logano’s teammate) and Daniel Suarez’s No. 19 Toyota (the car that Truex and Pearn will helm next season along with a few select FRR crew members), it seemed the race would be decided between Kevin Harvick and Truex,

With fourth title contender Kyle Busch in first (and hoping for a caution) on much older tires and needing to stop again, the lead was cycling toward Harvick and Truex, who seemed in the catbird seat for his fifth victory of the season.

“I thought we were slaying (Harvick) pretty hard and would have got him pretty quick, and there was no way what (Busch’s team) was doing was going to work out,” Pearn said.

Until the final caution.

After pit stops, Busch emerged in first ahead of Truex, Logano and Harvick. Truex quickly dusted Busch on the Lap 253 restart, but Logano swept past him four laps later with Truex barely able to put up a fight.

“He was so much faster than me at that point, if I would have hit him, he would have just hit me back and went on,” Truex said when asked if he could have been more aggressive “It was a moot point. I needed to be faster. It wasn’t even close at that point in the race. He passed me so fast, I didn’t even have a chance to do anything. So, yeah.”

Logano led a race-high 80 laps primarily because he was unbeatable during the first 15 to 20 laps after a restart. Sunday’s last restart was with 15 to go.

“Just needed more time,” Truex said.

And more than a little luck, as it turned out. Sunday’s race was the inverse of Truex’s path to the 2017 championship, which he won with a better short-run car than Busch … because of a late yellow flag that was triggered because of debris from a flat tire on Suarez’s No. 19.

“(Suarez) brought the caution out last year which won us the championship,” Pearn said. “This year it cost us the championship. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to have a bit of luck. At the end of the day, it just didn’t quite shake out.”

Was there extra sting from losing to Logano, whom Truex vowed wouldn’t win the championship after the Team Penske driver advanced to the Championship 4 by bumping him aside for a last-lap win Oct. 28 at Martinsville Speedway?

“Yeah, a little bit, but what are you going to do? They did a good job,” Truex said. “They beat us. Fair and square. It’s the way it goes. That’s racing. That’s why we race.”

Pearn, who got into a shouting match post-Martinsville with Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, also shrugged it off.

“I don’t think that matters to me,” Pearn said. “(Logano’s team) did a great job. They haven’t quite had the speed they displayed (Sunday) all year. Credit to them. They went out and earned it. So they did a great job.”

So did Furniture Row Racing, which managed to soldier through the playoffs under the specter of the impending shutdown that was announced the week of the regular-season finale. Though Truex was winless over the final 10 races, he still managed five top-five finishes and came up just one position short of becoming the 16th driver with multiple championships (and first in eight years to win consecutive titles).

“I don’t know what else we could’ve done,” Truex said. “Honestly, we worked our guts out all weekend and just to get here. We shut a lot of people up and made them eat crow, and that felt good. To come here and almost upset the field and almost win it back to back was really awesome. I just wish that last caution hadn’t come out. Other than that, I don’t know what we could’ve done.”

Said Pearn: “I’m just super proud of our effort. Everybody and their brother wanted to write us off and say we couldn’t do it. And we just proved them all the hell wrong like we have all along. If that’s the way the 78’s got to go out on a style and performance like that, I’m good with it.”

It was a fitting end to a five-season run for Truex with the underdog team that he once described as a “bunch of misfits” that became one of stock-car racing’s most unlikely success stories while resurrecting a driver’s career.

“Best time of my life,” Truex said. “I don’t know what else to say. Those guys have been amazing. They’ve made me a superstar in NASCAR. I’m just very thankful for them all.”

NASCAR America: Daytona 500 ‘Turning Point’ came on Stage 2 pit stop

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The moment that set up Denny Hamlin‘s Daytona 500 win on Sunday came on Lap 108, according to NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte.

That’s when Hamlin made a pit stop near the end of Stage 2.

“(Crew chief Chris) Gabehart calls his car to pit road,” Letarte said. “He doesn’t care about stage points. He cares about four fresh tires on a hot, slick Daytona track.”

Then on Lap 122, during the stage break pit stop, Gabehart decided to put only fuel in the No. 11 Toyota when he was 21st.

“On Lap 163 he got 6 seconds of gas, that’s it, no tires,” Letarte said. “That gave him track position (eighth) in front of all of those accidents. The turning points to this race was before Stage 2 even ended.”

Watch the above video for more.

Garrett Smithley in Spire Motorsports car at Atlanta as entry lists released

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Garrett Smithley is listed as the driver of Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Smithley, a native of Peachtree City, Georgia, competes in the Xfinity Series with JD Motorsports and made three Cup starts last year.

Spire purchased Furniture Row Racing’s charter after the team closed at the end of last season. It fielded Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 in the No. 40 in a partnership of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Quin Houff also will compete for Spire this season.

Click here for the preliminary Cup entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Xfinity entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Truck Series entry list.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and recaps all the action from Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett will discuss all the major storylines from the race that saw Denny Hamlin claim his second 500 win.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it 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.

‘Bizarre’ Daytona 500 marks Jamie McMurray’s likely final Cup start

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If Sunday’s Daytona 500 turns out to be Jamie McMurray‘s 583rd and final Cup start, then the race threw all it could at him as a going away present.

McMurray finished 22nd in what the Chip Ganassi Racing driver called a “bizarre” Daytona 500.

The 43-year-old driver had to start his 17th “Great American Race” at the rear due to a rear gear change. By Lap 19 in he was in 19th.

His day was complicated on Lap 50 when he was caught up in a six-car wreck, which damaged his right front fender. With repairs made to his No. 40 Chevrolet, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner continued.

Even with the damage, McMurray managed to navigate his way up to 10th by Lap 84.

He then led the field from Laps 164-169, with just the last two laps under green.

Then chaos reigned.

The final 20 laps saw three multi-car wrecks, but McMurray managed to avoid the ones that caught 21 and seven cars.

“Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green-flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end,” McMurray said. “It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps. It’s part of it. You were able to get big runs. It seemed like as the sun went down those runs happened more often. When the Daytona 500 is on the line, people are willing to take big risks. They just all waited to the end.”

But McMurray couldn’t avoid the last major wreck. While running eighth he was ensnared in a nine-car melee that resulted in the overtime finish. 

“I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did,” said McMurray. “I made it through two or three wrecks I should have been in and didn’t get torn up. It is just part of it. It is what it is and I’m just thankful I’m safe. This is just one of those places you come to that there are a lot of unknowns and certainly after flipping at Talladega (last April), speedway racing was a little different in my mind.”

McMurray will now transition to an analyst role for Fox Sports.

Should the native of Joplin, Missouri, never make another Cup start, he ends his career with seven wins, 63 top fives and 168 top 10s.

He exits the NASCAR stage after 581 consecutive Cup starts.

Next week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the first without McMurray since the Oct. 20, 2002 event at Martinsville Speedway. That was the race after McMurray scored a surprise first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway driving Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge in substitution of an injured Sterling Marlin.

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