DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Martin Truex Jr. took a winding, unexpected path to find a new job.
He didn’t realize it would seem to take almost as long and be just as cumbersome to join his Furniture Row Racing team at Daytona.
Truex was one of the final stragglers to make it to the track after weather woes – and some poor planning – forced him to miss Thursday’s Daytona 500 media day.
Truex’s plane that was scheduled to leave at 10:45 a.m. Thursday didn’t take off until close to 5 p.m. because a winter storm and icy conditions that affected travel in the South and East. Truex’s 15-minute drive to the airport took about an 1 hour, 15 minutes. Truex, and his travel partner, Ryan Newman, both were no-shows at the kickoff for the Daytona 500.
Truex was in an 0 for 2 slump in NASCAR media appearances: He checked in via Skype from Anguilla – with palm trees in the background and drink with umbrella in hand – during last month’s media tour.
Upbeat and much, much warmer, Truex at last made it Friday.
And he can’t wait to get going.
Truex will make his debut for Furniture Row Racing at Daytona, a season after losing his ride in one of the biggest scandals in NASCAR history. He lost his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, his sponsor, and his job – a trifecta of bad news that left him scrambling for a ride late in 2013.
He didn’t reach an agreement with Furniture Row until November in Texas.
“There’s a lot of time between Texas and the Daytona 500 to think about it,” Truex said. “It’s kind of a tough time there. You really want to get in there with your new team and get to work.”
Truex hopes he found a home at Furniture Row, a one-car operation based in Denver, Colorado, far removed from NASCAR’s North Carolina hub. The seat opened when Kurt Busch bolted for a ride at the suddenly crowded Stewart-Haas Racing organization. More resources, more cash, more opportunities to win.
Furniture Row, though, had amazing success with Busch. Busch turned the traditionally undewhelming organization into championship contenders, helping them become the first single-car team to earn a berth in the Chase.
“It definitely makes you feel better knowing that they’ve been able to put up great results and they’ve had fast race cars,” Truex said. “That’s part of the reason I went there. I wasn’t going to go there if I didn’t think we couldn’t win races. That’s not what I’m here for.”
The other part?
Truex needed a job when Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief Ty Norris was caught on the radio during the September race at Richmond instructing MWR driver Brian Vickers to pit to help teammate Truex make the Chase.
NASCAR investigated and bounced Truex from the 12-driver Chase field following the Richmond scandal. MWR was fined $300,000 for manipulating the outcome of the race, and all three crew chiefs for the organization were placed on probation for the rest of the season. MWR also lost a major sponsorship deal with NAPA.
Newman took Truex’s spot in the Chase and Jeff Gordon was added to the field as a 13th driver.
“It was tough for me,” Truex said, “but I moved on pretty quick. I’m very fortunate I was able to land in a great position right now, with how things went and how late in the season it was.”
Truex may be a one-driver entry, but he’s far from alone. Richard Childress Racing has a technical alliance with Furniture Row, that includes technology sharing, engineering, and research and development.
Truex made a couple of offseason trips to Denver to bond with his new crew. He’d like to help Furniture Row go back-to-back with a Chase spot – something he can do with a victory. Truex, though, has only two career wins, including one last season at Sonoma. After the penalties, he was 16th in the standings.
He’s not looking back – ready to push scandal aside and focus on a new era.
“If you ever had to pick a time to switch teams, you’d want to do it when there’s some big rules changes,” Truex said. “You kind of start off on an even playing field.”
– By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
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