Furniture Row Racing to cease operations after 2018 season

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Furniture Row Racing, the reigning Cup championship team, announced Tuesday it will cease operations after this season, citing a lack of necessary funding.

“I’ve always felt that we could be a competitive team and run for a championship even when it seemed like a pipe dream to many racing insiders,” car owner Barney Visser said in a statement. “But to be successful in any business you need to assemble the right people and make a strong commitment to succeed. We achieved what we set out to do and feel like we climbed Mount Everest. To continue with anything less than a competitive team would not be acceptable. It’s been one incredible ride.”

The announcement comes less than a month after car Visser issued a statement that “not fielding a team in 2019 is not an option and we have every intention of continuing to build on our success for years to come.”

The move also comes after primary sponsor 5-hour Energy announced in July that it would no longer remain in NASCAR after this season. 5-hour Energy is serving as co-primary sponsor of the team with Bass Pro Shops for 30 races this year. Furniture Row Racing was unable to find any income to replace what it would be losing.

“This is not good for anybody,” Visser said in a statement about closing the team down after this season. “The numbers just don’t add up. I would have to borrow money to continue as a competitive team and I’m not going to do that. This was obviously a painful decision to arrive at knowing how it will affect a number of quality and talented people.

“We’ve been aggressively seeking sponsorship to replace 5-hour ENERGY and to offset the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing but haven’t had any success. I feel that it’s only proper to make the decision at this time to allow all team members to start seeking employment for next year. I strongly believe that all of our people have enhanced their careers by working at Furniture Row Racing.”

This announcement comes as Martin Truex Jr. is third in the points after winning his first series title last season.

Truex, who joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 as the driver of the No. 78 car, said: “While I am saddened by today’s announcement, I totally understand the decision. Barney Visser, Joe Garone and the entire Furniture Row Racing team took me in while my career was in a bad place, and together we reached the pinnacle of the sport. I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them, and also to Furniture Row, Denver Mattress and the Visser family.

“But make no mistake this is not the immediate end. We still have unfinished business to attend to and that’s to give everything we have to successfully defend our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Right now that is foremost on my mind as it is with the entire team.”

With Furniture Row Racing leaving after this season, it will have a charter to sell. That will be among the more valuable charters. Cup charters guarantee a starting spot in each race but also a set amount of money per race. One portion of the team payments is based on performance in the past three years. Furniture Row Racing has made the playoffs each of the past two years and will again make the playoff this season.

Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, Colorado, started its NASCAR program in 2005 as an Xfinity team before moving to Cup. The team made its Cup debut in Nov. 13, 2005 at Phoenix with Jerry Robertson. He started 43rd and finished 41st, completing 51 laps.

The team’s first Cup victory was by Regan Smith in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The team has since scored 17 more wins with Truex, including victories this season at Auto Club Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Sonoma Raceway and Kentucky Speedway. Furniture Row Racing has won 12 of the last 59 Cup races (16.9 percent).

Others who drove for Furniture Row Racing included Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek and Jimmy Spencer.

“There are so many people I want to thank because without them winning a championship and being competitive would never have happened: Joe Gibbs Racing for our technical alliance, Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Bass Pro Shops, 5-hour ENERGY, Auto-Owners Insurance, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress,” Visser said in a statement from the team.

“A heartfelt thank you to Joe Garone, Martin Truex Jr, Cole Pearn and all of our team members for their talent, dedication and sacrifices they made along the way. To the Furniture Row and Denver Mattress employees I want to express a special thank you for always having my back from the early years of our race team to our championship run.

“I also want to thank the fans, the Denver community, NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation (ISC), Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) and independent track owners for providing and maintaining the venues that we compete at. A special tip of the hat to the media and to NASCAR’s broadcast partners – FOX, NBC, Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN) and SiriusXM Radio. We’ve always been treated fairly by members of the media and I appreciate their hard work in one of the most demanding schedules in major league sports.”

NASCAR issued a statement Tuesday: “NASCAR wishes the very best to Barney Visser and his family. Barney has been a successful owner and an amazing champion, and his presence will certainly be missed. We look forward to seeing Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and the entire No. 78 team finish the 2018 season strong and competing for another championship. NASCAR will continue to work on growing the sport and working with the race teams on competitive and operational excellence. Much of those efforts have already been put in place, and will continue to be a focus.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs, whose team is aligned with Furniture Row Racing, said in a statement: “We have a great partnership with Barney and everyone at Furniture Row Racing. It’s unfortunate that they will not be continuing after this season and I know it was a difficult decision for them. They have accomplished so much and I know they would like nothing more than to win another championship this season.”

In a statement, Laura Pierce, General Manager for Motorsports, Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) said: “We want to thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin, Cole and everyone at Furniture Row Racing for a successful partnership over the past few years. The team’s dedication and hard work in the sport was instrumental to our racing family as they helped us win our first NASCAR Cup Series manufacturer’s championships as well as reach the pinnacle of the sport with last year’s championship. We look forward to continuing to work with the Furniture Row Racing team as they defend their championship in the upcoming playoffs.”

Christopher Bell would prefer not to ‘waste another year’ of ‘prime’

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Whether he is racing in the Cup or Xfinity Series next year, Christopher Bell would be “thrilled either way,” but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver thinks he’s ready for NASCAR’s biggest stage after 27 starts and five wins in Xfinity.

“I don’t feel like I need another year of Xfinity,” Bell said in a Wednesday teleconference.

The defending Camping World Truck Series champion made his comments hours after team owner Joe Gibbs told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “we have to keep him,” and that Bell is “scheduled” for another season in Xfinity.

Gibbs said Bell’s future is “kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.”

But Bell is confident in what his future has in store for him.

“I think the best way for me to win at the Cup level is to get there and start trying at it,” Bell said. “I feel like I’m different than the guys that have been coming up here over the last couple years, and everyone is saying that they’re moving guys up too quick, and the difference is that I’m 23 years old, I’m not 18, 19 or even 20 years old.

“I’ve got a lot of racing experience, and right now I feel like I’m in my prime as a race car driver. If the opportunity comes to go Cup racing next year, I definitely don’t want to waste another year in my prime, so to speak, of not learning and not getting that experience of Cup racing.”

As of now, all four of JGR’s Cup rides are filled for next year and Furniture Row Racing, where Erik Jones was teammates with Martin Truex Jr. in 2017, is now a one-car team seeking additional sponsorship for Truex in 2019.

That leaves the possibility of a second ride there less likely. Truex is a free agent after this season but indicated last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

Regardless, Bell said he has “every intention of staying” with JGR and Toyota, adding he’d “probably be running either the All‑Star sprint cars or maybe the (World of) Outlaws” if Toyota hadn’t added him to its driver development program in 2015.

“Even if the Cup deal doesn’t work out for next year, which it looks like it’s not going to, I’m still going to be sitting in a really fast race car at a level in motorsports where I never really dreamed I’d be at,” Bell said.

In his rookie season, Bell leads the Xfinity points standings after 19 races and is coming off winning three consecutive races. He will try to make it four straight Saturday at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBC). The last series regular to win four in a row was Sam Ard in 1983.

All of Bell’s five Xfintiy wins to date have occurred on ovals.

Bell will get just his fourth chance to compete on a road course in a national NASCAR series this weekend.

“Going for four in a row would obviously be huge, but obviously it’s going to be a tall order to win four in a row going to a road course that I’ve never been before with guys that are racing that have a ton of experience there,” Bell said. “I’m not going to be heartbroken if I don’t win four in a row, but I will be heartbroken if I don’t win five races this year.  So that’s the only stat that matters to me are those race wins.”

Bell has two concerns heading to WGI, the first of three road courses in four races. The first is shifting.

“I don’t know if I’ve had a road course weekend where I haven’t blown a motor yet by missing a downshift or missing an upshift and accidentally downshifting,” Bell said. “So that’s the No. 1 goal is to get through the weekend without blowing a motor.

“It’s just so opposite of everything that I’ve done in my past, but I’ve really enjoyed the road races that I’ve done, especially at Canada. I feel like I’ve been fairly competitive up there.”

In two Truck Series starts at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bell has finishes of fifth and 26th (engine).

“The only thing that’s hindering my confidence right now is just the fact that I was so awful at Road America last year,” Bell said of the race where he started fourth and finished 19th. “That’s the only reason that I don’t feel like I could compete for the win this week.”

Points are another concern for Bell on the road course.

“(Justin) Allgaier is an excellent road racer,” Bell observed. “Daniel Hemric does a really good job on the road courses.  So there’s a lot of guys that I’m in a really tight points battle with that are really good road racers, and unfortunately for me, I don’t have that star by my name that says I’m a really good road racer.”

Bell has a 16-point lead over second-ranked Elliott Sadler. Hemric is fourth (-23 points) and Allgaier is fifth (-52).

Said Bell: “So luckily with the stages, I feel like the guys that are competing for wins will pit before the stage ends, and that’ll open up some stage points for us if I’m not up to speed and I’m not competing for the win.”

Joe Gibbs on Christopher Bell: ‘We have to keep him’

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Christopher Bell’s three consecutive Xfinity wins have raised questions of if he’ll move to Cup next year, but car owner Joe Gibbs said Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” that the youngster is “scheduled” to be in Xfinity next year.

Bell’s status has gained attention because there’s seemingly no place for him in a Toyota Cup ride next year.

Joe Gibbs Racing already has Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones in its four-car lineup. The only other high-profile Toyota team, Furniture Row Racing, has reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., and seeks sponsorship for that team. That leaves the possibility of a second ride there less likely. Truex is a free agent after this season but indicated last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

If Toyota added another organization, it could provide Bell with a path to Cup as early as next year.

“We have to keep him,” Gibbs said to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio of ensuring Bell remains in the Toyota and JGR fold. “Just put it that way. We have to. I think Toyota has a lot invested. We do. I really think he’s a future star. You never know when you step up to the next level, that’s a huge step. We think he’s well on his way. I think he’s showing everyone what his abilities are and his talents.”

Bell won the Camping World Truck Series title last year for Toyota-backed Kyle Busch Motorsports. He ran eight Xfinity races last year for Joe Gibbs Racing, winning in his fifth series start, before moving to that series full-time with JGR this year. Bell has four victories and 12 top-five finishes in 19 Xfinity races this season. He goes for his fourth consecutive Xfinity win — an accomplishment achieved only by Sam Ard in 1983 — Saturday at Watkins Glen (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Bell’s rise and the limited number of Toyota seats in Cup create a conundrum the manufacturer has faced before. Toyota’s driver development program goes from midget racing all the way to Cup, providing a ladder system for drivers to climb as they progress. But with limited seats in Xfinity and Cup, Toyota has lost some young drivers to other manufacturers and organizations.

Kyle Larson, who had been racing on dirt for a Toyota-backed team, signed with Turner Motorsports, a Chevrolet team, to drive in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2013. He later moved to Chevrolet’s Chip Ganassi Racing in Cup. After that, Toyota began to examine its development program to find more avenues for its young drivers.

Even with that in place, the manufacturer lost William Byron, who won a series-high seven Camping World Truck races in 2016 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron moved to JR Motorsports, a Chevrolet team in the Xfinity Series, in 2017. He won the title before moving up to Cup with Hendrick Motorsports this season.

If there’s no room immediately at Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup for Bell, could the organization move him elsewhere as it did when Jones ran as a rookie last year at Furniture Row Racing before returning to JGR?

“Well, it’s so far in the future,” Gibbs said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think that’s what we’re all right now planning and looking at. I think it’s kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.

“I think he may have a chance to race a few other things. I think that’s kind of our plan. A year away, a lot can happen in a year. We’re just glad that we’ve got him under our banner.”

Erik Jones’ first Cup win fueled by father’s Corvette

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At the age of 20, Erik Jones lost his father to cancer. At the age of 53, Dave Jones lost his life. More tragically, he lost the opportunity to watch his son race full time in the Cup series. He was not present to watch the sophomore driver win his first Cup race in his 57th start Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway – two years and one month to the day of his father’s passing.

Dave was diagnosed with lung cancer early in 2016 and an aggressive form of the disease took him three months later on June 7.

A piece of Dave lives on with his son’s career – a career that would not have happened without sacrifices to give Erik the best equipment possible during his formative days as a late model racer.

One of these sacrifices was a blue 1965 Corvette.

After winning the Coke Zero Sugar 400, Jones recalled the day his dad first sold the car.

“I was, I don’t know, maybe 12 or 13. We were just trying to get into late model racing around that time, whenever it was, and my dad was in the car business, specifically Corvettes at the time or selling reproduction parts and doing restoration, and he had bought a Corvette of his own when I was maybe five or six years old.

“One day he came home, and he had sold the car, and I was like, ‘man, why did you do that,’ and he’s like, ‘well, we’ve got to fund the racing somehow.’”

MORE: Erik Jones wins in overtime at Daytona

The relationship between Dave and Erik is an integral part of what makes Erik so special to his car owner Joe Gibbs and Toyota.

“I asked (Dave) one time if he raced,” Gibbs said following the race. “He said, ‘no, Erik just said, I want to do this.’”

That was enough for Dave to commit to his son’s dream.

“He was so supportive, and (his death) was just a horrible thing,” Gibbs continued. “It was just terrible. So that’s a part of Erik, I think, winning tonight. I think obviously it’s an emotional thing for him because his dad would have absolutely loved it.”

The early sacrifice paid dividends almost immediately. While Dave did not get chance to see Erik’s first Cup win, there was plenty that he did get a chance to witness.

A couple of years after the sale of the Corvette, Jones grabbed Kyle Busch‘s attention by beating him in the 2012 Snowball Derby, along with Chase Elliott and David Ragan. The next year, Busch hired Jones to race in his No. 51 late model. Jones won back-to-back Snowball Derbies as well as several other high-profile late model races that year.

Dave was there to see his son race for Busch in the Truck series. The pair won in their first season together in 2013. Jones went on to win six more Truck races and the 2015 championship. Dave saw Erik win four of his nine Xfinity races for Gibbs.

Six months after his father’s death, Jones tracked down the Corvette and repurchased it.

“That wasn’t the only thing that was sold along the way, and things that were – chances that were taken financially to get me to this point,” Jones continued. “But I was able to buy that car back actually about a year and a half ago, and that was pretty cool, same car, so that was pretty neat to get that back. I always wanted to give it back to him, but it sure feels good to have it in my hands now. … I definitely wish he could have been here to see this one.”

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Inside story of the season’s most ‘awesome finish’

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JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Larson didn’t make the last-lap move on Kyle Busch as he hoped Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Oh, yes, Larson planned to hit Busch.

Larson just didn’t want to get in front of Busch so quickly.

“I wanted to slide in front of him,” Larson said. “But I knew I would be too tight and have to slow down too much to where he would just probably cross over and drive away from me.

“I did plan to go into there and get into the side of him and slow him down, which I did, but I really didn’t want to clear him before (Turn) 3 because I knew that would give him the opportunity to do that into 3.”

The result was NASCAR’s most exciting finish of the season. Busch repaid Larson for the Turn 2 contact on the final lap by shoving Larson in the rear bumper in Turn 3. That sent Larson into a sprint car slide and Busch into the wall.

Kyle Busch celebrates his win. (Getty Images)

Busch recovered, straightened his car and drove to the finish line to earn his fifth win of the year. Larson skidded to the grass, regained control of his car and finished second for the fourth time this season.

“I thought he was going to pull a slide job,’’ Busch said of Larson’s move in Turn 2. “When he didn’t try to do a slider, then I wasn’t sure what his next move was going to be.

“I was like, ‘Surely he’s not going to drive into the side of me.’ Then he did. After that point … all bets are off.”

Busch bounced off the wall in Turn 2, lost the lead down the backstretch and chased Larson. Busch’s plan was to cut under Larson when Larson slid up in Turn 3. Larson stayed on the bottom.

Busch went to his next option.

“I drove off in there as far as I could and I got into the back of him,” Busch said. “Once I did that, he was kind of sliding loose. I was just trying to get back to the start/finish line after that. It’s kind of a product of once it’s done to you, it’s fair game.”

Larson knew what he was doing when he hit Busch in Turn 2.

“I moved him first,” Larson said. “I can’t be too upset about the move into 3. I opened the door for that. I waved the green flag to run into each other. That was just a fun finish.”

Busch and Larson have had their duels — Busch and Larson have finished 1-2 eight times in Cup and Xfinity with Busch winning each time. The most recent time came in April at Bristol when Busch used a bump-and-run move to get by Larson with six laps to go and win.

“Maybe that’s what he kind of thought he had on me in Turn 2,” Busch said for Larson’s physical move. “If he would have been able to be alongside of me and raced me clean, we would have just raced through 3 and 4 and seen who could have got back to the start/finish line first.

“Once contact is made in a race, it’s kind of like OK, it’s every man for himself. Even me, when we had that race at Bristol and I got into him with (six) to go, I was like, ‘Man I thought I did that too early because he could get back to me.’ He never could get back to me.”

Larson reached Busch on Sunday at Chicagoland with help.

Both he and Busch admit that if it hadn’t been for lapped cars slowing Busch, Larson likely would not have gotten close enough to challenge for the win.

“I don’t know what position they were racing for, but they were racing very hard for it,” Busch said of the lapped cars in the final laps. “They were just side‑by‑side. When that happens, there’s just nowhere for me to go. There’s no clean air. 

“One was on the bottom. I think there was a middle lane kind of open, two on the top. I got by (Ryan) Newman, I got plugged up off of (Turn) 2, lost my momentum. Newman came to the bottom.  We were three‑wide with lapped cars in the backstretch. 

“I couldn’t turn off 3 to the bottom like I would have if he wasn’t there. I don’t think (Ricky) Stenhouse knew that. Stenhouse kind of right reared me, got me steering up the racetrack towards the wall. That killed my rear tires for the next two laps. I was just sliding for dear life. I don’t know if anybody really did anything wrong, let’s say. But there was an awful lot of lap cars that were way more gracious, let’s go with that.”

Larson put himself in position to take advantage of the lapped traffic by running the high line, as he so often does, but with a precision not always seen. While he did clip the wall once late, he constantly ran inches — “a half inch probably at times,” he quipped — without leaving a trace.

“It’s super impressive how close he can enter on the wall and how quickly he can get back to the throttle and have complete control of his car so close to the wall lap after lap,” said Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, about Larson.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anybody that I can recall that’s been able to do that.  I’m sure it’s the dirt track skills and the way he grew up, what he raced growing up. It just speaks to his talent.”

As Larson closed on Busch, car owner Joe Gibbs watched helplessly.

“This is a problem,” Gibbs said watching from pit road.

Kyle Busch (left) and Kyle Larson recount their last-lap duel (Getty Images)

But in this matchup of among the sport’s most talented drivers, Busch prevailed.

After Larson finished describing the “awesome finish,” he walked to the garage stall where the makeshift Victory Lane moved to because of impending rain.

He and Busch talked.

Busch told Larson: “I thought you were going to slide me. I was all ready for that.”

“No, I didn’t have enough room. By the time you got back to my outside, I had no other choice, stall you out, I hit you.”

“You knew it was fair game after that?”

“Yeah, I knew.”

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