Denver’s Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex Jr. were top-notch at the Daytona 500 and brilliant at the Coca-Cola 600, finishing second and first, respectively, in those marquee races. The third leg of NASCAR’s so-called triple crown is this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the No. 78 Toyota could vie for the checkered flag at the prestigious Brickyard 400.
“I’m feeling pretty optimistic,” Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn said Tuesday.
FRR tested at Indy’s fabled 2.5-mile flat oval last week, before going to New Hampshire and having a broken shifter eliminate another excellent chance of winning. Before becoming stuck in fourth gear while running second behind eventual winner Matt Kenseth, Truex led 123 laps at New Hampshire, bringing his season total to a series-most 989 — 160 more than No. 2 Kevin Harvick, the points leader.
“@MartinTruex_Jr has more bad luck than any one person I can remember,” former NASCAR star Mark Martin tweeted during Sunday’s race.
While acknowledging the bad luck but combating it with the team’s continuous ability to run up front, Pearn expects Truex to lead more laps at Indy, where the No. 78 finished fourth a year ago.
“We were pretty solid at the test. I felt like we learned some things,” Pearn said of the Indy test session. “It’s going to be really hot this weekend — like high 90s every day — so it’s going to be pretty slick, low grip. I’m sure it will be a challenge but nonetheless I think we have good direction and hopefully we’ll get good results when we get there.”
The No. 78 will be sporting new colors at Indy, with Auto-Owners Insurance beginning a three-race primary sponsorship deal with team owner Barney Visser of Cherry Hills. Visser previously started a nine-race sponsorship with Bass Pro Shops, and Truex won the Coca-Cola 600 with the outdoor outfitter company on the car. Normally, the 78’s primary sponsor is Furniture Row/Denver Mattress, the Visser-owned companies.
Perhaps another new sponsor will change Furniture Row’s luck. “We’re doing everything right, but we’re taking some on the chin here lately,” Truex said in a release. “This isn’t when it counts so we’ll just keep our heads up and keep working. Our race cars are fast and everyone is doing a great job. Sooner or later we’ll get everything straight.”
Sunday’s broken shifter stifled Truex on restarts and coming out of his pit, sending him back to 26th place on the final restart. He rallied to finish 16th in yet another race he was in a position to win.
“Killer. We had a good car,” Pearn said from Furniture Row’s north Denver shop. “We’re waiting to see on the material now and see exactly where the failure spot was. We’ll have all that stuff updated going into Indy.”
Truex remains a comfortable ninth in the 16-driver Chase for the Championship, the 10-race playoff that begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway. Truex’s speed and handling at 1-mile New Hampshire was important because Furniture Row’s weakness has been on the shorter tracks. The No. 78 has dominated the intermediate (1.5 mile) tracks, leading 785 laps,. but struggled on the shorter ovals.
Nine of the 10 Chase tracks are 1.5 miles or less, including a return trip to New Hampshire in the second Chase race Sept. 25, after which the playoff field will be trimmed to 12.
“We had New Hampshire circled on the calendar, being that it’s in the Chase and we need to run better to help us get through the first round,” Pearn said. “I felt like we gained some direction and had a good run. It’s always good when you can get better at your weaknesses.”
Martin Truex Jr., driver of Denver-based Furniture Row Racing, is seventh in the point standings (ninth in Chase points) but second in driver rating:
Driver Points pos. Wins Rating
Kevin Harvick 1 1 109.6
Martin Truex Jr. 7 1 104.9
Kyle Busch 6 3 104.6
Carl Edwards 4 2 100.9
Brad Keselowski 2 4 99.7
Matt Kenseth 8 2 99.3
Joey Logano 5 1 97.6
Jimmie Johnson 9 2 95.1
Kurt Busch 3 1 94.8
Denny Hamlin 10 1 90.9
NOTE: Harvick and Truex also are 1-2 in average running position, at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively.
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