Truex, Furniture Row Racing Show Speed, Promise in First Season With Toyota

HHP/Andrew Coppley

The ending didn’t match the rest of the story, but in the end Furniture Row Racing’s 2016 season will be a journey worth remembering.

The hype for FRR’s 2016 season started back at the beginning of 2015.

Coming off of an abysmal first year with Michael Waltrip Racing castaway Martin Truex, Jr., FRR was the Cinderella story of the year, scoring a record 22 top 10s, leading a team-high 448 laps and earning their second victory as an organization at Pocono Raceway en-route to a surprise berth in the Championship 4.

Incredibly, despite the newfound success, team owner Barney Visser elected to take a leap of faith in 2016, shifting his team from Chevrolet to Toyota.

Going into 2016, fans and critics alike, myself included, were skeptical of the team’s hopes for the year, anticipating that results would take time to come to fruition as the organization adjusted to a new manufacturer.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Working with pseudo-teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex found immediate success, coming inches away from a Daytona 500 victory in the closest finish in the race’s 57-year history.

Following the close call, Truex’s team became a consistent contender at the front of the field, undone only by their own poor luck and mental mistakes.

Truex quickly dismissed any thoughts that the Daytona run was a fluke, leading 34 laps the following week at Atlanta Motor Speedway before settling for seventh.

As the season entered its second month, Truex led 141 laps at Texas Motor Speedway, but was ultimately relegated to a sixth-place finish. Four races later, the New Jersey native’s dominant run at Kansas Speedway yielded only a 14th-place result despite his No. 78 Toyota’s race high 172 laps at the front of the field.

By the time NASCAR rolled into Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600, FRR had captured the attention of their competitors as a legitimate contender. The organization had speed. They needed only to put an entire error-free race together to seal the deal and go to victory lane.

At NASCAR’s home track, the team did just that.

Truex led a record 392 of 400 laps around Charlotte in May, capping off the greatest day in motorsports with an all-time display of dominance to claim one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races.

As the season progressed on, Truex continued to show speed, and his team consistently showed up when the stakes were at their highest.

Kyle Busch was untouchable at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, but Truex found a way to contend throughout the day at the Brickyard before finishing eighth. The 11-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran ran up front again in the rain-delayed Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway one month later before a crash relegated him to 23rd.

FRR’s grandest triumph came in one of the sport’s best races – the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Surrounded by a litany of the sport’s best stars in retro throwback schemes, Truex pulled away down the stretch to claim his second major event of 2016 and give FRR their first multi-win season at the site of their first-ever win with Regan Smith in 2011.

Truex rode that momentum into the Chase two weeks later, earning a playoff-opening win at Chicagoland Speedway, albeit with controversy.

Truex’s car failed post-race laser inspection, sparking a debate that ultimately led NASCAR to adopt new rules for the Chase moving forward that allowed a larger tolerance before penalizing teams but made the repercussions much greater.

Over the next two weeks, the No. 78 team brushed the controversy aside, breezing through the opening round of the Chase and scoring a round-ending fourth victory at Dover International Speedway.

After their early Chase success, many penciled FRR in as the favorites to claim the championship. However, the ensuing seven races saw the team’s luck start to run out.

After two subpar runs, Truex was one of many drivers to fall victim to the new elimination-style format of the Chase when his No. 78 Toyota’s motor blew up in the final race of the Round of 12 at Talladega Superspeedway, sending him to the garage in 40th and ending his title hopes.

Martin Truex, Jr., and Furniture Row Racing found victory lane swiftly in the Chase, but their title run fizzled out shortly thereafter. (Photo: HHP/Alan Marler)

To their credit, Truex’s team responded over the following two weeks, notching finishes of seventh and third at Martinsville Speedway and Texas, but the final two races both ended in crashes with finishes of 40th and 36th.

With three finishes of 36th or worse in the final five races, FRR entered the offseason on a sour note. Still, the organization has much to be proud of after a stellar debut with Toyota.

While FRR didn’t prove as consistent as they were in 2015 —they tallied five fewer top 10s and their 13.89 average finish was actually worse than their 12.22 average in the previous season- the Colorado-based group were true contenders up front far more than they’d ever been in the past.

After entering the year with just two wins in over a decade of racing, FRR managed four in 2016.

The organization started up front far more often, averaging a 9.1 starting position, more than three positions better than their previous best 12.5 in 2015, and their 1809 laps led were a full 745 laps more than they’d managed in their first 11 years combined.

FRR also made moves that should help them continue to grow in the future.

Not only will FRR have a full year with Toyota under their belt next season, the organization will also have a second team. Visser announced in August at Watkins Glen International that FRR had signed 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones to compete for the newly-established No. 77 team in 2017 with support from 5-Hour Energy.

Jones, 20, has proven stellar in his short time in NASCAR, earning six XFINITY Series wins and seven NCWTS victories in a combined 100 starts over the last four years.

FRR doesn’t know how long they’ll have Jones, but it may not matter. Should the Michigander’s transition to the MENCS go as smoothly as rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney did in 2016, then he could prove capable of contending for wins and a Chase berth from the moment the green flag flies at Daytona.

Regardless of Jones’ success, the organization appears primed for another great season with Truex, and as their relationship with JGR and Toyota grows, so too shall opportunities for improvement.

2016 was a true coming of age moment for Visser’s humble operation, and the moves they’ve made have them set up for even more success in 2017.

When FRR pulls into Daytona in February, they’ll do so with two talented drivers, two hard working teams and, for the first time, high expectations.

 

2016 Year in Review

Hendrick Motorsports

Joe Gibbs Racing

Team Penske

Furniture Row Racing

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