Barney Visser

Friday 5: Will Martinsville provide another memorable door-banging finish?

1 Comment

Last fall’s Martinsville race was memorable for a finish that saw Joey Logano move Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the final lap to win and earn a spot in the Championship 4 in Miami.

As the series returns to the half-mile Martinsville Speedway this weekend, what are the chances of such action repeating?

“I would say that it’s probably not going to be, there’s less of a chance that it will be like that,” Truex said. “Just because it’s not a race to get into the final four. I would think it would be tame and normal like we’ve seen there in the past.”

Logano disagrees.

“I see a trophy on the line,” said the reigning series champion. “A big clock (given to the winner). I don’t see that any different from the spring to the fall.”

The first race of the season at a track less than 1 mile will test drivers and could lead to aggressive actions. The question is how aggressive will drivers be.

“The (driver) code has definitely changed,” said nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson. “People reference the code a lot. But I think ultimately whatever code exists is between the two drivers. And that same code might not exist between driver C and driver D or driver A and driver D; it just changes all the time.

“When I look at it, sure it was a very aggressive move and Joey knew what he was doing to get that win and I’m sure we’ll expect the same to come back from Martin at some point. … In my eyes, sure it was aggressive but it could have been a lot worse.”

2. A familiar refrain

Coming off his dominant run on the West Coast swing, Kyle Busch heads to a type of track he’s ruled lately. Busch has won five of the last nine Cup races on tracks less than 1 mile in length.

Busch’s wins have been at both Richmond races in 2018, the spring Bristol race in 2018 and fall race there in 2017 and at Martinsville in fall 2017.

Teammate Denny Hamlin, whose last win at a track less than 1 mile in length was at Richmond in Sept. 2016, explains Busch’s success.

“He works tremendously hard at his craft,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think it’s just all natural talent. I think he works very hard as well.”

3. Perfect attendance

Ross Chastain is the only driver who has competed in every national series race this season. That’s five Cup, five Xfinity and three Truck races. He’s entered in this weekend’s Truck and Cup races at Martinsville.

Chastain has been running at the finish in every race. He’s completed 98.7 percent of the laps run in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks this season (2,498 of 2,532 laps run).

Such a schedule was expected entering this season. He had a deal to drive select races for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series. He also was set with a Cup ride with Premium Motorsports.

Chastain was to have raced for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series but those plans went away after the FBI raided the headquarters of sponsor DC Solar and home of the DC Solar’s CEO. With DC Solar unable to fulfill its sponsor obligations, Chip Ganassi Racing shuttered its Xfinity team. That forced Chastain to look for other options.

He’ll drive three races for Kaulig Racing (he drove for the team at Daytona) and the rest of JD Motorsports this season.

So far this season, Chastain finished 10th in the Daytona 500 — giving Premium Motorsports its second top 10 in 231 Cup starts — placed seventh at Las Vegas for JD Motorsports and was third in the Daytona Truck race for Niece Motorsports.

4. “Like what I don’t like”

Xfinity rookie Justin Haley enters the off-weekend for the series 12th in points with a season-best finish of eighth at Atlanta.

Haley placed 10th last weekend at Auto Club Speedway and explained what he needs to do to have better finishes.

“I just need to get better on the feel from practice to the race, how the car transitions and goes through the process of loose and tight,” the Kaulig Racing driver told NBC Sports. 

Haley, who finished third in the points in the Truck series last year, said that experience can’t help him with what he’s seeking to improve upon this year.

“A lot of the times the Truck races are at night, so it’s gripped up,” Haley said. “These are day races, it transitions a lot. Really these Xfinity cars have less downforce. The Trucks, if you were good at the start of the run, you were going to be good at the end. There was no falloff really. Even at like Atlanta, the balance stayed the same. These things (Xfinity cars) take a huge swing throughout the run. So just getting a feel for that is the biggest thing.

“What I like most of the time isn’t what’s fastest, so I have to learn to like what I don’t like to make it fast.”

5. Ever return?

Martin Truex Jr. was asked last weekend at Auto Club Speedway if he thought Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser would return to NASCAR after shutting his team down after last year.

Said Truex: “We talk every week. He’s been watching. He’s been talking to us and telling us we’ve been doing a good job, and things like that. I think it’s probably a bit of a relief for him that he doesn’t have to worry about all of the things that come with being a team owner and he’s just able to enjoy it.

“I told him he needs to get to the track soon, we’d like to see him and get him around. As far as your question on whether he’ll be back, if you mean as a team owner? I have no idea. We haven’t talked about it. He hasn’t mentioned it. My best guess is no, but I guess you can never rule out anything.”

Martin Truex Jr. reveals final twist in Furniture Row Racing saga

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The story of Furniture Row Racing’s unfortunate demise was well told last season.

Lesser known is that it nearly happened three years earlier.

Martin Truex Jr. revealed Wednesday during Daytona 500 Media Day that the No. 78 was close to implosion after the 2015 season before securing the necessary funding that enabled the Denver-based team to last three more seasons.

“It wasn’t really reported on a lot that there was almost a chance we were going out of business before” the end of 2018, Truex said. “It wasn’t really talked about. It was kind of behind the scenes. And I had to go out and find sponsors. I had to do this and that to get paid.”

Truex’s primary sponsor for virtually the entirety of the 2014-15 seasons was Furniture Row, the company also owned by car owner Barney Visser.

In 2016, Bass Pro Shops (which followed Truex to Joe Gibbs Racing this year) and Auto Owners Insurance picked up nearly half the season, and a switch to Toyota also injected millions. In ’17, Furniture Row peaked in sponsorship (with the addition of Bass Pro and a second car for Erik Jones with 5-hour Energy).

Last year, Furniture Row was entirely off the No. 78 as a sponsor, and when the impending departure of 5-hour Energy left an eight-figure hole in the team’s budget, Visser shut down the team.

Truex since has replaced Daniel Suarez in the No. 19 Camry at JGR and said “there’s a lot less worry for me on the team side worrying about what their future is and how are things going.

“The stability of where I’m at now is clearly a lot different,” Truex said. “It’s there, which is important. It makes it easier to focus on racing and not have to worry about all the other stuff. I’m excited about it. It’s an awesome opportunity. Great organization and great people. At the same time, I have to get the job done. A lot of pressure on me to perform and hopefully I can deliver.”

Because JGR and Furniture Row had worked together as Toyota teams the past three seasons, Truex said the transition is relatively seamless compared with his past career shifts from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Michael Waltrip Racing and MWR to Furniture Row.

Crew chief Cole Pearn now can attend competition meetings at the JGR headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina, that he once conferenced in remotely from Denver.

“I would say that it was a lot easier,” Truex said about the move. “A lot less unknowns. Less nervous about it just because I know things. I talk about simple things like I know what their brakes are like. I know what their throttle pedal feels like. I know what kind of steering they run. When I’ve switched teams before it’s like starting over a lot of times.

“When I went from DEI to MWR it was like completely starting over. All new people. All different parts and pieces. All new equipment. Everything felt different. The approach was different. That’s where you kind of have that anxiety of how’s this really going to be. I think it’s going to be good, but I don’t know. There’s so many questions when you switch teams like that. For this transition for me, it was a lot easier because we worked so closely together the past couple of years.

“We’ve essentially built our cars together. We used all the same stuff – parts and pieces, engines, you name it. I’m familiar with all that. I’m familiar with their process. The way they do things. The way they work together. The way their meetings are. You name it, it’s a comfortable change. For me, it’s been as easy as it’s ever been to switch teams like this year.”

Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser thanks fans

Getty Images
4 Comments

Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser issued a note to fans, thanking them for their support.

Furniture Row Racing, which won the 2017 Cup title with Martin Truex Jr., ceased operations after the 2018 season because of lack of sponsorship. Truex and crew chief, Cole Pearn, along with other crew members, have moved to Joe Gibbs Racing to the No. 19 team.

As for Visser, he shares some more info in this note to fans:

Dear Race Fan,

First, I want to express a sincere thank you for the passionate support given to Furniture Row Racing during our storied career in NASCAR. It was an incredible ride and we are proud to be known as a NASCAR Cup Series champion. 

Along with the enjoyment of being a competitive team on the racetrack, we also enjoyed a great deal of satisfaction partnering with renowned Denver-based neurosurgeon, Dr. Scott Falci, and his adaptive motorsports program. The Falci Adaptive Biosystems Program and its cutting-edge technology is designed to bring mobility to paraplegic, quadriplegic and disabled individuals.

Furniture Row Racing, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress provided the adaptive Toyota race car the past four years. Dr. Falci and his team built and installed the highly sophisticated technological components that allow the spinal cord injured to drive the race car with its’ special hand controls linked to the accelerator and braking. In addition to the hand controls the car can be driven hands and foot free, with technology that allows movement of the occupant’s head to be detected and input into the vehicles steering, accelerator, and brake systems (see video) 

While the race car will continue to be provided by Furniture Row and Denver Mattress, I will not be personally involved. I am proud to announce that this inspirational program will have more assets to expand under the executive leadership of Joe Garone, who was the architect of building Furniture Row Racing to a championship level as the team’s president. 

Joe will work with Charlotte-based Spire Sports & Entertainment and Dr. Falci to grow the program’s fundraising and awareness efforts. 

Joe and Spire are currently seeking sponsorship for a number of special events to showcase the adaptive race car technology prior to a NASCAR Cup Series weekend. The events will include spinal cord injured individuals driving the adaptive car along with a NASCAR Cup Series driver, who will offer assistance and advice plus give a thrilling, high-speed ride to the participants. 

For a better understanding of an adaptive motorsports event please see video below, which includes former NHRA champion Darrell Gwynn driving the adaptive race car with only head movements. 

A birthday celebration that eases pain of 2018 for Daniel Suarez

1 Comment

Amid a day celebrating his 27th birthday and new Cup ride with Stewart-Haas Racing, Daniel Suarez confided how difficult 2018 was.

But without that season — and a series of events beyond his control — Suarez wouldn’t be with a Stewart-Haas Racing team that saw its four drivers win races last year and each advance to the third round of the playoffs.

The joy makes up for the frustration and angst Suarez experienced last year while at Joe Gibbs Racing. After finishing 20th in points as a rookie in 2017, more was expected last year from his team.

Suarez and his team didn’t deliver.

“I wish I knew many answers,” Suarez told NBC Sports on Monday about last season’s struggles. “I can tell you we were not even close to my expectations. As a driver, you always have your expectations and then as a team you plan the expectations of the team, and I don’t feel we got to either expectations.

“We had good results. We had a couple of second-place finishes and few top five finishes but (were) extremely inconsistent, extremely inconsistent. I don’t really know exactly what was the problem. I just know that in a year we were not able to fix it. We tried.

“Once I saw that something wasn’t right, I was pushing very hard with the team to try to fix it, and we just couldn’t. I don’t know. I felt like a change, it was going to be good for me. I’m very, very grateful for the opportunity that Gibbs gave me in the national series and Toyota, but once I moved to Cup, I felt like it was a little slow for myself. I was working extremely hard to fix that, I just couldn’t make it work.”

As Suarez struggled for results — he would finish 21st in the points — other factors were taking place that would impact his future.

Furniture Row Racing announced July 18 that 5-hour Energy would not return after the season, a blow to the Denver, Colorado-based team. Car owner Barney Visser was unable to replace the primary sponsorship for this season and announced Sept. 4 that the team would cease operations, leaving 2017 Cup champ Martin Truex Jr. without a ride.

Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn would ink deals with Joe Gibbs Racing and join the organization in 2019. That meant JGR had to jettison one of its drivers. Suarez was told he would not be retained less than two years after winning the Xfinity title for JGR and not yet though his second full Cup season.

“I was very disappointed,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “I will tell you that for a month I was a different person. I was mad with everyone. I don’t feel that I was being a good person in general, not just in racing but in general.

“But then you just have to realize that everything happens for a reason. The position that I’m in today was something that maybe, who knows, without that change, who knows if I would have been able to do this move. I honestly feel like I’m in a better position than I was a year ago.

“I’m really relieved that everything happens for a reason, and I’m extremely grateful to have this second chance in a top-caliber team. I’m really excited to go out there and show what I can do and what I couldn’t do last year.”

Suarez admits he was worried for more than a month last year where he would race once JGR said it would let him go after the season. There were questions if sponsor Arris would remain at Joe Gibbs Racing or follow Suarez to another ride. The logical destination for Suarez was the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing with Kurt Busch leaving that ride, but Suarez would need to bring sponsorship. Without Arris, the chances of him being in that car — one that won a race last year and won the Daytona 500 two years ago — were less. Arris will sponsor Suarez’s ride, along with Haas Automation, at SHR.

“When things start to happen, you don’t really know who has your back and who doesn’t,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “I thought a lot of people had my back at one point and then the next week all of a sudden everything changed. There were a lot of questions. A lot of questions without answers. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t just a fun month or so. Like I said, everything started to get on track, everything started to get better, a better idea of where everything was going to go.

“I just feel very, very happy to be in the position I’m in today with great teammates, a great organization.”

While he hasn’t worked with new teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola before, he’s spent time with them.

Suarez said that he’s known Harvick since running in the Xinfity Series. Suarez often asked Harvick questions or for advice on matters. Same with Bowyer. Suarez and Almirola often rode bikes in the same group last year at the track.

Now he will seek to help them repeat what they did last year by getting every SHR car back to Victory Lane.

“That’s something that is very, very hard to do,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “Sometimes people don’t realize. Most of the big team teams, they have very good programs, but they don’t every single car winning and up front. Stewart-Haas Racing was able to do that. You know when you are able to do that you have an extremely good group of people behind those programs working extremely hard.”

Suarez is confident he can win in the No. 41 car this year with crew chief Billy Scott. Suarez cites the new package teams will run this year and notes he finished second to Harvick in the All-Star Race when a similar package was tried last year.

“I will say to myself, why not?” Suarez said of winning this year. “The team is good, strong. The team is pretty much exactly the same. The only part that has changed is the driver. The rules are different. I feel those rules, if anything, are going to help me based on what I experienced in the All-Star Race. I have high expectations. The team has high expectations as well.

“I feel there is a lot of potential to do great things this year.”

Nate Ryan contributed to this report

Martin Truex Jr. reflects on ‘end of an era’ for Furniture Row Racing

Leave a comment

As NASCAR marked the end of the Cup season Thursday with the Awards banquet in Las Vegas, it also marked the official end for Furniture Row Racing, which Martin Truex Jr. affectionately called “a special team, a special time.”

Hours after crew chief Cole Pearn tweeted a photo of the team’s Denver, Colorado, shop on his last day there, Truex graced the banquet stage for the last time as driver of the team’s No. 78 Toyota.

A year after being recognized as the series champion, Truex gave his speech as the second-place finisher.

Afterward, Truex reflected on the “end of an era” for the team, which he joined in 2014 and won 17 races with.

“I’m really proud of the effort,” Truex told reporters. “You never know if the next chapter will be as successful as the last one. Just thankful for all the people around me and for (owner) Barney (Visser) and what he gave us, what he allowed us all to do. It was a special time. Hopefully, we can continue that success. But nothing’s guaranteed.”

Truex sad that he was “sad” he placed second to Joey Logano in the standings, but said it was important to get the chance to acknowledge all that Visser did for Truex and the team one last time on the banquet stage.

“I think it’s special, an important time to be able to get up there and say those things,” Truex said. “Just really pass on the word for the team and represent the team like that so all our fans can see it. I was glad he was here. He wasn’t here last year (due to recovering from surgery after a heart attack). I wish he was here last year, not this year to be honest. … It’s hard. You get two to three minutes to say a few things. I’ll never be able to tell him or express just how much he means to me, what he’s done and what the last five years mean to me and the things he’s done for my career. Sad times for all of us.

“I know Cole’s in a tough spot. He’s getting ready to move and he’s sad because today’s his last day at the shop. The cars are lined up and getting ready to be shipped off. End of an era for sure, but we had a hell of good run. Came close to being a storybook ending.”

A week from now, Pearn will be working full-time as crew chief on Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota, which Truex will drive.

Truex said he’s not concerned about the change in dynamics for him and Pearn as they transition to JGR after years spent out in Denver as part of a technical alliance with JGR.

“Especially with Cole leading the charge,” Truex said. “I know he can get the best out of everybody. That was really the key to our success. Him figuring out how to get most out of everyone, put the right people in the right places. It’s going to be hard to duplicate the cast of characters we had, there’s no question. If anyone can do it, it’s him.”

Truex said “there’s no reason for us to change” how they work and race in their new place of work.

“I think … the last couple of seasons we really played a lot of what they were doing and tried to stay on the same page as them,” Truex said of JGR. “As they were updating things and coming up with new ideas and new cars and all that stuff, we kind of stayed on the same page and took it our one little step further out there at Colorado. I think the mad scientist part of Cole is still there and he’ll still be a driving force in making those late changes. … It’s going to be new territory.”

 and on Facebook