2016 will forever be looked at as “what could have been” for Furniture Row Racing. Starting off with a hefty switch of manufacturers from Chevrolet to Toyota and Richard Childress Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing respectively, things we’re up in the air as to how the one-car operation based in Denver, Co. would perform. But they had their best season in over a decade of existence, and the dominant car and driver week in and week out.
Martin Truex Jr. has always been a driver who has bad luck follow him everywhere he goes. From “SpinGate” at Richmond back in 2013 when his Chase spot in the No. 56 car for the now deceased Michael Waltrip Racing was taken away, to finishing second in the season-opening Daytona 500 to Denny Hamlin by mere inches, Truex Jr. has been through it all. But that’s not limited to just on the racetrack – it’s off it as well.
His longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, and her sickness took a toll on Truex Jr.’s racing career. He is on the record as saying he wasn’t sure if he had the drive (no pun intended) to continue while he saw the love of his life suffering every day. Yet, Pollex and Truex Jr. perserveared, she is now cancer-free and the Mayetta, NJ native had the best season of his 10-year career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Truex Jr. and the No. 78 bunch garnered 17 top tens, eight top fives, five poles and over 1,800 laps led in 2016. He also claimed four checkered flags at Charlotte, Darlington, Chicagoland and Dover.
The highlight of his season was obviously the complete and utter domination of the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend. The No. 78 led a whopping 392 of the 400 laps around the 1.5-mile quad-oval in Concord, NC. That equates to a not-too-shabby 98 percent of the laps in one of the most prestigious (and longest) races in all of motorsport.
That Charlotte Motor Speedway butt-whooping was somewhat indicitave of the season the FRR bunch had. Every week, the No. 78 was one of, if not the fastest car off the truck, and was the championship favorite as the Chase begun. However, lady luck was not a Martin Truex Jr. fan in 2016, as his title hopes went up in a plume of smoke at Talladega Superspeedway in the final race of the third round of The Chase. A blown engine – something out of the control of the driver, team and crew chief – ended their championship chances. The only DNF due to a mechanical failure in 36 races just came at the wrong time for Truex Jr.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series. Coming off their best season ever, Furniture Row Racing is expanding to a two-car operation. The No. 78 team will remain intact, with Martin Truex Jr. behind the wheel and Cole Pearn calling the shots atop the pit box. But a new (but familiar) face will be joining FRR: Erik Jones
The 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion and 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year will pilot the No. 77 Toyota with main sponsorship from 5-Hour Energy. The move was announced in the summer at Watkins Glen. Couple FRR’s tremendous performance with the alliance and help from JGR and adding a second car isn’t too outrageous of a proposition after all.
Jones will be the favorite to win MENCS Rookie of the Year honors, along with his former-JGR teammate in the NXS who will now drive the No. 19 in Cup, Daniel Suarez. No rookies ended up in victory lane last season, but a couple were knocking on the door multiple times. For Jones, at a mere 20 years old, he is being heralded as a once in a generation talent. The Byron, Mich. native has won 13 races across NASCAR’s top three premier series and can’t legally drink a beer yet.
If that’s any indication whatsoever, the future, and more specifically the 2017 MENCS season, looks pretty bright for Furniture Row Racing.