KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) – Joe Garone thought he’d seen Martin Truex Jr. lose in every conceivable way at Kansas Speedway, whether it was pit strategy or bad restarts or a bizarre problem during a late tire change that did in his chances of winning last season.
Then, he watched Erik Jones — the other car in their two-car Furniture Row Racing stable — go for a spin late in Saturday night’s race, forcing a restart after Truex had established a big lead.
“I was like, ‘Here’s a new way to lose it,'” said Garone, the team’s president. “The 77 is going to do it for us.”
Only this time, things worked out in the end.
Truex roared away from Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick on a late restart, then did it again when Jimmie Johnson spun out with two laps to go. And after so many fits at Kansas Speedway, Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team had finally found their way to victory lane.
“I’m not going to lie to you: As a racer, you don’t forget,” Truex said. “You don’t forget those days, the ones that got away or you screw up and gave one away or anything like that. You never forget those. They always stick with you.”
Truex called last year “the biggest heartbreaker,” when he had several seconds on the field and came in to pit with 54 laps to go. The stop went flawlessly save for the right front tire, which was on crooked and causing an intense shaking because of a bolt that got jammed behind it.
“To have the craziest thing happen that you could ever imagine — an eight-second lead just gone. I don’t remember where we finished because it was so heartbreaking,” Truex said. “I feel like it’s been a long time coming, and we definitely earned it, that’s for sure.”
Indeed, Furniture Row Racing has earned just about everything it has gotten.
The only team headquartered west of the Mississippi, Barney Visser’s two-car outfit has managed to challenge powerhouse teams such as Hendrick and Penske with regularity. It survived money problems and poor results early on, thanks primarily to dogged determination, and slowly built itself to the point where established drivers such as Kurt Busch were taking the team to the front.
Truex came aboard before the 2014 season, when Busch headed to Stewart-Haas Racing, and rookie crew chief Cole Pearn’s arrival the following year sent the team on an upward trajectory.
Truex reached victory lane once in 2015 and made the final four at Homestead, finishing fourth in the championship race. And he finished second at the season-opening Daytona 500 and won four times last season, including a stretch of three wins in five races late in the year.
His other win? The Coca-Cola 600, where Truex led a record 392 of 400 laps.
“The first year with Martin, as you know, was pretty tough. We didn’t know exactly what we had, and he didn’t know exactly what he had, and it’s just been golden ever since,” Visser said. “He is definitely the pick, when we lost Kurt, that Cole and Joe and all the guys wanted, and we were able to land him. He’s just been outstanding. You saw it (Saturday night) on those restarts.
“He drove like a champion, and that’s where we think we’re headed. That’s the goal,” Visser said with a smile. “And we’ve got a driver that can do it.”
Truex has been the model of consistency this season. He was eighth at Atlanta before winning the following week at Las Vegas, then ran fourth a couple weeks later at California. He also had back-to-back eighth-place runs at Texas and Bristol and was in the top 10 at Richmond.
In fact, the only time he’s finished outside the top 16 this season came at Talladega, when a late-race wreck ended his day. Otherwise, he’s been right in the mix at every stop.
He’s just 44 points behind Kyle Larson in the standings, and he joined Johnson and Brad Keselowski as the only drivers with multiple wins this season.
“The last two years have just been — it’s just every weekend has had that feeling,” Truex said. “I know that we’ve been in position to win a lot of races. I’ve had a couple of the greatest years of my career with this team and I just can’t wait to show up at every racetrack.”
– By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
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