Current Michael Waltrip Racing driver will replace Kurt Busch, confirms multiyear deal
Furniture Row Racing announced Friday at Texas Motor Speedway that Martin Truex Jr. will be the team's driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season, filling the vacancy left by former series champion Kurt Busch.
Truex confirmed the agreement was a "multiyear deal."
"I'm definitely excited to be here today," Truex Jr. said. "This is a big deal for me, and I'm very, very excited about the opportunity to drive for Furniture Row. I've really been impressed with this organization and what they’ve accomplished this year being a single-car team."
Truex Jr. confirmed he talked to other teams, but did not have another offer with firm sponsorship.
"It was a lot of hypotheticals," he said.
Truex is in his eighth full season in NASCAR's top division, with the most recent of his two career victories coming earlier this year at Sonoma Raceway. He became available when Michael Waltrip Racing freed him to negotiate with other teams after longtime sponsor NAPA Auto Parts departed in the wake of severe penalties against the Toyota team for manipulating the results of the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway.
"As unlucky as I got at Richmond, I got just as lucky when this deal turned up," Truex Jr. said Friday.
The loss of sponsorship forced MWR to scale back to two full-time Sprint Cup teams, accelerating Truex's search for a full-time job. The move means he will take over the seat left by a former series champion, driving for a team coming off its most successful season.
“Michael Waltrip Racing congratulates Martin on his announcement today," the team said in a release. "We are very happy to see him in a competitive ride next year and appreciate the professionalism everyone showed throughout this entire process.”
Busch was introduced Aug. 27 as a fourth driver for Stewart-Haas Racing beginning in 2014. Even with his impending departure, Busch helped power Furniture Row's No. 78 Chevrolet into its first appearance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason this year.
Furniture Row Racing's headquarters in Denver, Colo., make it one of the few stock-car operations outside of the Charlotte, N.C.-area hub. Despite the distance, team owner Barney Visser -- who started his furniture empire from a modest pillow business in the 1970s -- has seen his team benefit from a technical alliance with established Chevy team Richard Childress Racing.
The partnership, which began in 2010, treats Furniture Row as a virtual fourth car in the Childress camp. Team officials for both sides announced an extension of their alliance on Sept. 12.
Furniture Row Racing debuted in 2005 and struggled in its earliest years before achieving its first taste of success with Regan Smith, who piloted the team's No. 78 to its first victory in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Visser reached an agreement with Busch late in 2012, replacing Smith for the final six races of the year.
After closing the 2012 season with three consecutive top-10 finishes, Busch and the underdog outfit have thrived this year with the team's first Coors Light Pole Award since 2008 and 10 top-five finishes. The team had achieved just three top-fives in 193 career starts before Busch's arrival.
Busch finished eighth in the regular-season Sprint Cup standings, guaranteeing a spot in the 10-race Chase playoffs this season. It also guaranteed that Visser's organization will enjoy its best-ever finish in the points standings. Furniture Row's previous best finish in the Sprint Cup team owner standings was 24th place, achieved last season.
For Truex, his stay in this season's Chase lasted just two days. NASCAR officials removed him from the playoffs and replaced him with Ryan Newman after the Waltrip team was ruled to have manipulated the results of the Sept. 7 race at Richmond.
NASCAR also fined the organization $300,000, stripped all three Cup teams 50 championship points, suspended general manager Ty Norris indefinitely and placed all three crew chiefs on probation.
NAPA, saying that the company "believes in fair play," announced Sept. 19 that it would terminate its partnership at the end of the season, ending its contract as primary sponsor for Truex's No. 56 Toyota two years early. NAPA had been a sponsor of Waltrip's during both his driving and team owner career since 2001.
Truex had been with Michael Waltrip Racing since the start of 2010, making the Chase last season for the first time since 2007. After NAPA's announced departure left a bleak outlook for a third MWR car in 2014, Waltrip said that Truex was free to explore his options.
"If he came to me tomorrow and said 'I've got a deal to go do something,' then obviously I would not hold him back," Waltrip said Sept. 20 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "His support and loyalty to our organization has been amazing. He drove some kind of crappy cars when he first got to our shop. We were able to build those cars and make them faster. He's become a race-winning Chase guy. I owe him a lot."