After sponsorship exit and MWR turmoil, 33-year-old finds a home
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Call it Martin Truex Jr.’s happy ending.
A tumultuous four-month span of high highs and some low lows, not of his own doing, has culminated this week with a promising new job and can't-look-back attitude.
Furniture Row Racing formally introduced Truex on Friday as the new driver of its No. 78 Chevrolet for 2014, a multiyear deal and a fresh start after a newsworthy tenure and impending farewell at Michael Waltrip Racing.
"I'm just very fortunate to have the opportunity to drive for a team of this caliber and this late in the season to be able to have that opportunity,"’ Truex said Friday’s practice at Texas Motor Speedway.
"It's something that I didn't think would exist. Really, I mean as unlucky as I got at Richmond a month or two ago I got just as lucky when this deal turned up. What can you say? I guess all things happen for a reason, hopefully all this happened for a reason and we will be able to do some great things together."
The last four months for Truex peaked with him drinking celebratory wine in Sonoma Raceway's Victory Lane in June and then prevailing in a tiebreaker to earn a spot in the then-12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship battle in September.
He hardly had time to get the confetti out of his hair when days later NASCAR removed Truex from the Chase field as a penalty to MWR for what it deemed unfairly influencing the regular-season finale.
And then it got worse when earlier this month MWR announced it would reduce Truex's team to a part-time operation in 2014 after sponsor NAPA pulled its financial support from the team in reaction to the Chase controversy.
"I can't say what I said then," Truex said, laughing as he recalled getting the news from MWR that he didn't have a ride for next season.
"I was terrified. My first thought was 'What am I going to do next year?' Everybody's got their deals done for next year. I pretty much said 'oh, crap.' It was like getting punched in the face. You didn't see it coming. It came out of nowhere. Obviously, I kind of saw it coming after what all went down.
“Right away, it was 'Uh oh, this is bad. This could be real bad.' Again, I think, that ship has sailed. I don't even really like talking about it anymore. I just really want to focus on looking forward, and the opportunity to work with the No. 78 team. I just feel really blessed to have that come along.”
Far from appearing bitter about the circumstances, Truex -- one of the most popular drivers in the garage area -- was all smiles Friday, over and over offering up a heartfelt and philosophical outlook in making the best of his situation.
“Nine out of 10 years in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, if somebody would have lost their ride at the time of year I did, the chances of getting a ride of this caliber are slim to none at best. I feel lucky that I was able to put this thing together.”
For its part, MWR issued a statement congratulating Truex on his new deal. The two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champ who, in addition to his June win at Sonoma, turned in 51 top-10s, three poles and qualified for the Chase once in his four years with the team.
"We are very happy to see him in a competitive ride next year and appreciate the professionalism everyone showed throughout this entire process," it read.
Contradictory to some earlier reports that the deal had been completed for weeks, Truex said he only signed the contract Thursday night. And, FRR General Manager Joe Garone revealed, the team has hired all of Truex's current pit crew on MWR's No. 56 Toyota. FRR's current crew chief Todd Berrier will remain in that role.
The team is currently making its Chase debut with driver Kurt Busch, who will move to a fourth car at Stewart-Haas Racing next season. And while Truex considers this an unexpected turn of good fortune, Furniture Row can say the same thing landing a driver of Truex's caliber with only weeks left in the season.
It's worked out well for both parties and Garone didn’t mince words when explaining why they immediately pursued Truex.
"Martin can win races," Garone said. "He is a Chase-level driver. He is going to fit into the program. It's not just Martin, it is Martin and the family, the Truex family. It's a fit, it really is. We are excited about all the opportunities that come along with Martin being on board. From how he represents our sponsors to what he can get done behind the wheel.
"We are going to have some work ahead of us. We are going to work really hard. Todd (Berrier) and the guys they are excited about moving forward and getting him the cars he needs to be able to win. That is what we are looking forward to."
Truex also concedes that it will be a big transition for him. He’s only driven for two Cup teams – Dale Earnhardt Inc. and MWR – in his eight full-time Sprint Cup seasons. And this will be first time he's been on a single-car team (although FRR has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing).
But all in all, considering the other possible outcomes, all's well that ends well. Or in this case, starts well.
"It's been a roller-coaster of emotions to say the least," said Truex, who followed up his news conference by leading opening practice for Sunday's AAA Texas 500.
"I think that at the end of the day the things that helped me get through it were just the people I surround myself with. My family, my girlfriend, even folks at NAPA that I talked to that really helped me through the situation.
"It was definitely difficult. It's something that I never thought that could ever happen. I guess it was the unimaginable. But really I tried to stay positive through it all. I knew it would work out, I had hoped that it would work out and it has.
"I think it was tough, but I’ve got my health. I’ve got great people around me that keep me grounded and keep me focused; at the end of the day that I didn’t lose too much sleep over it. It all worked out good.
“You know life is not fair. As big of a deal as this is to a lot of us sometimes it's not the end of the world. That is kind of the way I tried to look at it. That helped me get through.
"All you can do is look forward. You can't turn back time. You can't go back and fix things you might have done different. You just have to look forward and try to push forward, and that is what we are doing."