News officially broke today that Furniture Row Racing–who won last year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship with Martin Truex, Jr.–is ceasing operations at the end of the 2018 season, citing financial concerns because of an inability to find sponsorship for next year. This is obviously a huge blow to the sport, but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; after announcing in July that the team was looking for a new primary sponsor in 2019, Truex was very noncommittal in an interview (just one month later) that he’d even be back in the #78 Toyota–an obvious red flag.
And now, less than three weeks later after Martin’s concern-raising interview, Furniture Row Racing made the rumors official. There was a reason behind those rumors circulating, though: the writing was on the wall.
Furniture Row: The Solo Team That Could
Furniture Row Racing has always been a sort of Cinderella story in NASCAR. Based out of Denver, Colorado–nowhere near the ‘hub’ the sport in Charlotte, North Carolina–FRR first started dabbling in racing’s top series in the early 2000s, before running a part-time schedule with Regan Smith behind the wheel in 2009. The team achieved moderate success with Smith behind the wheel, essentially going from the ‘startup’ team to the ‘underfunded’ organization.
The situation continued to improve for Furniture Row in 2012, though, when Kurt Busch joined the #78 team. The 2004 Cup Series champion played an integral part in FRR becoming a powerhouse organization, but when Busch announced in 2013 that he’d be leaving for a ride at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, it looked as though Furniture Row was headed back toward the lower depths of the field–until Michael Waltrip Racing ran into sponsorship issues and Martin Truex, Jr. was available.
Truex joined the Furniture Row team in 2014, and had a pretty disappointing first season with his new organization. However, a couple important alliances happened soon after that would pave the way for Truex to be a top force in NASCAR: first, crew chief Cole Pearn was hired at the end of that 2014 season, and second, Furniture Row aligned with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016.
In that first season with Toyota, Truex and Pearn went on to win four races, more than doubling his career total coming into the season, and the team finished 11th in points. The next year, the #78 Toyota was the class of the field for most of the year, winning a total of 8 races and easily claiming the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Homestead in the final race of the year.
It’s hard to give one move more credit than the other for Furniture Row’s success–the hiring of Cole Pearn and the alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing–but with the news breaking today that the organization will be shutting down, it makes for an interesting story, and one that will come full circle.
Truex to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019
Last week, I received a tip from an inside source that Martin Truex, Jr. to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019 was a done deal. I tweeted it out (see below), but obviously most people were going to be skeptical, since the idea of last year’s champion losing his ride just one year later is almost unbelievable.
My inside sources say Truex to JGR is a done deal.#NASCAR
— Jordan McAbee (@FanRacingOnline) August 31, 2018
The Furniture Row organization cited sponsorship issues, but I personally don’t think that that’s the full story. My source said that Barney Vissar, who owns Furniture Row, was getting pressure from his family to stop spending money on his “racing hobby,” and let’s not forget that there is still five months until the 2019 Cup Series season starts–plenty of time to put together a couple deals. That’s a whole different discussion, though; with today’s breaking news, I’d say the last domino to drop is an official announcement of the 2019 plans of Truex and Pearn.
Some may still have doubts on this happening, especially considering JGR already has a full 4-car stable in the Cup Series, but let’s not forget the circumstances in which they’re full: Carl Edwards abruptly stepped away from the sport in 2017–just a month before the season-opening race–and Daniel Suarez was thrust into the ride as the ‘best possible replacement.’ And, really, you couldn’t blame them: Suarez was fresh off of winning the Xfinity Series Championship in 2016. But that doesn’t mean he was ready for NASCAR’s top tier.
When you pair that with the fact that Daniel’s results in the Cup Series haven’t quite been up to par–12 top 10 finishes in 2017, and six so far in 2018–it’s easy to see who the odd man out here is. Fortunately for Joe Gibbs Racing, they have some of the best cars in the garage area, and they’re about to get (arguably) the best driver-crew chief combination currently in the garage as well.
EDIT: It was announced Tuesday evening that’s Truex and Pearn are, officially, going to Gibbs in 2019 to replace Daniel Suarez
Fantasy NASCAR Implications
For the remainder of the 2018 season, I’m not going to be overly confident in Martin Truex, Jr. and the #78 team. We won’t see a total collapse of this team, but my sources have said that many team members have already checked out, frustrated over what is happening with the Furniture Row organization (understandably). This will have to be monitored on a race-by-race basis, though: Truex is still a top driver in the Cup Series, and it’s not like the cars are suddenly going to be garbage.
What people should really be excited about is 2019–well, unless you don’t like Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization already has some of the strongest cars in the Cup Series garage, and they’ll also have Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. (always threats to win) along with Denny Hamlin–who is somewhat respectable, and usually good for a couple wins per year–and Erik Jones, who has really shown up in his sophomore season, with one win already and an improvement of his average finish from 17.1 in his rookie year to 13.2 this year (with 11 races to go).
If you’re sick of “The Big Three” in 2018, it might get even worse in 2019: as two of the three will be running for the same organization, with a possible third (in Jones) entering his prime in one of the top rides in the Cup Series.