By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Was there any better feel-good story in 2015 than Martin Truex Jr.? The man — who many feel is one of the nicest in the garage area — had been thrown through the ringer for a couple of seasons. His ride at Michael Waltrip Racing was lost following the 2013 season. Truex then landed at a single-car Furniture Row Racing team and proceeded to struggle in 2014. His long-time girlfriend and companion, Sherry Pollex, was in a battle for her life against ovarian cancer. Truex’s personal life and career were spiraling out of control.
Then came a magical 2015 season for the ages.
Truex came out of the gates like a space shuttle rocketing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Through the 15th race of the season, Truex was on record pace as he had already recorded 14 top-10 finishes. Truex also posted an emotional victory at Pocono, and he had led a total of 486 laps — all of this with more than half of a season to go.
To put his crazy start to 2015 in better perspective, compare it to Truex’s stat line from 2014:
36 starts, o wins, one top-five, five top-10s, one lap led
What a difference a year made for the New Jersey-native. Truex would coast to his third-career Chase berth, and would ultimately finish fourth in the championship battle when all was said and done.
After a Cinderella season like we’ve never seen in NASCAR, change is on the horizon. Furniture Row Racing, which has fielded Chevrolets since their inception in 2005, will now swap to Toyotas in 2016. With a new manufacturer comes new bodies, new engines and new alliances with other teams. Many are predicting a rough transition for the single-car team that won everyone’s hearts last season.
It is a lot of change, however I think Barney Visser’s team will be just fine.
The reason? There’s a few. All of the main components of the No. 78 team will stay intact from last season. Martin Truex Jr. will still be behind the wheel, and his girlfriend Sherry, has defeated cancer which would have to at the very least keep the driver in a better frame of mind.
Cole Pearn will still be on the pit box, and all of the great people that Visser has assembled behind the scenes to build this team into what it’s become will still be there in 2016.
Also, the team — which has been funded out of pocket by their team owner since they launched — will now have some sponsorship backing from Bass Pro Shops for nine races. I don’t know if you’ve inquired about putting your name on the side of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car lately, but a nine race commitment will cost a hell of a lot more pennies than I have in my bank account, and it will go a long way to helping this team come out firing on all cylinders in 2016.
The team will also address it’s biggest weakness from 2015, the pit crew. According to a December report from PitTalks.com, the No. 78 team should have a fresh roster full of crew members trained by Joe Gibbs Racing.
I honestly believe Furniture Row Racing has built their team the right way. They haven’t grown too fast, and they haven’t tried to race outside of their comfort zone. I really see them taking another step forward this year, and it looks like their long-term goal of being a two-car team is on the verge of being a reality.
Image: Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images