Kyle’s Corner: The Little Team That Could; Truex Takes Furniture Row to Championship Round

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Column by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America photo —

Martin Truex Jr.’s NASCAR career came to an abrupt halt after the last race to the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the outcome of the Federated Auto 400 Parts 400, Truex missed the Chase and as a result, full-time sponsor NAPA Auto Parts left the team at the end of the season, leaving the then-28-year-old driver out of a ride.

However suddenly, a seat opened up at Furniture Row Racing with Kurt Busch leaving the upstart team to head to Stewart Haas Racing and for the first time since 2009, the two-time Cup winner was back in a Chevrolet.

The same results at MWR didn’t duplicate in Truex’s first season at FRR, finishing 24th in points and recording only one top-five finish during 2014.

2015 has been a different tune for the Colorado-based team.

Truex started off the year with seven straight top-10s and began to show that the No. 78 team contended for the win each and every week. At one point, he led the most laps in three consecutive races, spanning from the May Kansas race to Dover two weeks later.

Then Pocono happened.

The question all season had been, “When was Martin Truex Jr. finally going to break into victory lane?” The answer was, “That day.”

On a bright and sunny afternoon at Pocono Raceway in June, the 69-race winless streak was no more. Truex led 97 of the 160 laps and held off a late-race challenge from Kevin Harvick to earn the team’s second career Cup win and practically guarantee them a spot in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The No. 78 team remained quiet the next few months, but once the Chase began, it was all hands on deck.

A consistent Chase put Truex in a spot to compete for a championship, and with a 14th-place finish in last weekend’s race-shortened race at Phoenix International Raceway, he grabbed the fourth-and-final transfer in the Championship round for a shot at the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway

“I think that certainly with my record in the Sprint Cup Series, there’s been a lot of ups and downs throughout my career, I’ve never really been in a position like this before,” Truex said. “For a lot of reasons, and I’ve said it since the Chase started, for a lot of reasons, we are the underdog.  One-car team from Denver, rookie crew chief, I’ve never raced for a championship in this series, so for a lot of reasons, we are the underdog.”

And underdogs they are.

With only one other previous Chase berth with Kurt Busch back in 2013, Furniture Row Racing looks to become the first single-car team to win the title since Richard Childress Racing led the lone car of Dale Earnhardt to the Cup championship, and the last true underdog team to claim the crown since journeyman Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 championship in the most thrilling of fashions over Bill Elliott.

While Truex knows he has three formidable foes to face in the form of four-time titlist Jeff Gordon, reigning champion Kevin Harvick and the always-potent Kyle Busch, the Mayetta, N.J. native knows that this weekend is easier than most — at least by the numbers.

“We have three great competitors here to race against this weekend, but every other weekend we’re racing against 42,” Truex said. “The odds are definitely a lot better this weekend than they’ve been the rest of the year, and again, if we can just go out and do our job, hopefully we’ll be good enough to get it done.  There’s no telling right now.  But I’m excited about the opportunity, feel like we’re going to have a really good shot at it, and I’m looking forward to this weekend.  It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

“There’s really no pressure.  It feels good to be here.  This whole season has been just a ton of fun for me, and to see the progress of my race team, hopefully we can finish off the final chapter here.”

Truex has good history at the 1.5-mile South Florida Track, having led 108 laps and completing only 20 laps in his 10 Cup races there. It’s also the same track where he recorded his first career top-five finish, a second to race winner Greg Biffle in 2006.

No matter what the outcome is Sunday night, Truex’s magical run will be etched in the history books, winning the title or not.

Can he do it? He’s certainly capable, I know that.

And if he wins the crown, it will be a storybook ending for the ages … and a celebration that will last long into the Florida night.

The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.

 

About the Writer

Kyle Magda is Race Chaser Online’s Associate Editor and a co-host of both Motorsports Madness and the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show, airing at 7 p.m. ET on Monday and Thursday nights, respectively, on the Performance Motorsports Network. Magda broke into racing in mid-2001 as the sport’s tide was beginning to change towards the current modern-era formula, but still has an affinity for the history of NASCAR’s earlier days.

The 22-year-old currently studies print journalism at Penn State University and can be found traveling to numerous tracks across the country, covering everything from NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series to the UNOH All-Stars Circuit of Champions and the Super Cup Stock Car Series.

Email Kyle at: kmagda@ptd.net

Follow on Twitter: @KyleMagda

Email Race Chaser Online: news@racechaseronline.com

Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews

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