Will a strong finish last season lead to more success for Truex Jr. in 2015?
Martin Truex Jr. is eager to start 2015 strong and continue the late-season momentum that salvaged an otherwise awful start driving Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevrolet. “Racing is never harder than when you’re not running good — just everything about it gets magnified,” Truex says. “The relationships get damaged, the confidence gets damaged, and everybody’s in a bad mood. It’s a constant downward spiral, and until you can stop that and turn it around, it’s hard to gain momentum.”
It’s a story Truex lived firsthand during his maiden voyage with this single-car program, his best option after the 2013 Michael Waltrip Racing Richmond debacle resulted in the contraction of MWR from three cars to only two. The cloud seemed to hang over Truex and his new team well into 2014. Right away, Truex blew an engine in the Daytona 500 and showed few signs of positive results until late in the 36-race schedule. The team lacked confidence and struggled to jell, leading a total of one lap all season.
After Truex missed the Chase by well over 100 points — and suffered through a personal nightmare of his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex being diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer — many wondered whether he would even stick around to complete his two-year deal.
Fortunately for both sides, a no-pressure Chase allowed Truex the opportunity to use the postseason races as a testing ground for 2015. Five top-15 finishes in the first five postseason races reminded both sides what this team is capable of; after all, other programs running Richard Childress Racing chassis, like AJ Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing, won races and ran competitively all season long.
In a surprising move, crew chief Todd Berrier was ousted in early December. Race engineer Cole Pearn earned a promotion, his first crew chief job, as the team hopes a “new school” approach will be the perfect match for NASCAR’s new rules. Hopes are high that the new pairing won’t miss a beat. Pearn, a former RCR employee, should strengthen the ties between the team and its engine and chassis provider.
A tire test at California in the fall instilled hope in Truex after the team tested the new aerodynamic package, one that decreased the height of the rear spoiler and featured other adjustments that added more front turning ability to the car.
Now, Truex must turn to 2015 with an optimistic yet cautious approach in the second and final year of his contract. “Realistically, you can’t expect to go from where we were and be the top title contender,” Truex says. “In the last third of 2014, we were consistently a top-15, close to top-10 car. If we can come out of the box doing that and then continue to improve, I would be happy with that.”
If that doesn’t occur, expect Truex to become one of the sport’s top free agents. Both he and FRR deserve better than the driver’s career-worst 24th-place ranking from a year ago.
No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
Primary Sponsor: Furniture Row
Owner: Barney Visser
Crew Chief: Cole Pearn
Year With Current Team: 2nd
Under Contract Through: 2015
Best Points Finish: 11th (2007, ’12)
Hometown: Mayetta, N.J.
Born: June 29, 1980
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Photos by Action Sports, Inc.