NASCAR racing team from Denver seriously challenging for the Sprint Cup mountaintop is the equivalent of a Peruvian ice hockey team thinking it could win the Stanley Cup. It flies in the face of convention.
“But it shows how much the sport is growing,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “There are a lot of smart people that are always working and always pushing to find more. We’ve got a team that works well together, even though that might not fit the profile of some of the bigger teams.”
Coming off his first Sprint Cup win of the season last Sunday at Pocono, Truex is one of the favorites for today’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. He snapped a 69-race winless streak at Pocono. And in the last four weeks, Truex has led the most laps. He tied with Kyle Busch for the second-fastest practice time Saturday on a misty afternoon in the Irish Hills.
Truex’s rise from relative obscurity has turned him into something of an industry folk hero. Five days after his Pocono win, Truex was still responding to congratulatory e-mails from fellow drivers. He has become a testament to the perseverance required at this elite racing level. Everyone is also happy for Truex because he is an example of misfortune mercifully balancing itself out.
Longtime girlfriend Shelly Pollex’s steady recovery from Stage 3 ovarian cancer has provided Truex with a perspective that made the lack of victories and the relentless scrambling to find any team to take him three years ago much easier to bear.
Truex remains loyal to the Furniture Row team that was there for him when he was at his competitive lowest. But has Truex gotten too big for Furniture Row to keep beyond this season when his 2-year contract expires?
Truex will be NASCAR’s biggest free agent.
Furniture Row team general manger Joe Garone said he wants to keep Truex. But it would involve a larger sponsorship presence and perhaps a different manufacturer.
“It’s all about business,” Garone said. “We are in a sport that is real expensive. We truly can’t afford to do it. When I say, ‘We can’t afford to do it,’ I mean at the level we want to push it to in order to be able to be in position to win a championship. We need more resources. Chevrolet has been a great partner.”
But Chevy has more invested in the bigger teams. Garone believes Furniture Row has not only earned its Sprint Cup keep with Truex in second in the Chase for the Cup standings, but it’s ready to assume a much higher profile in the sport. He is open to the possibility of switching from General Motors.
The team is openly flirting with Ford and Toyota.
And they need more actual sponsors. The names Furniture Row and Denver Mattress are splashed all over Truex’s No. 78 car. But those are companies that already belonged to team owner Barney Visser. The car doesn’t have independent sponsorship.
It’s not often that you hear a racing team discussing even the possibility of a manufacturer change in the middle of a very promising season. But it’s another example of how Truex and Furniture Row are changing the standard NASCAR narrative.
Home could be the Rocky Mountains rather than Rockingham County, N.C.
Truex insisted that the potential uncertainty hasn’t detracted from the objective of racing hard every week and amassing points positioning them for the Chase. It certainly didn’t detract from the celebration last week at Pocono. They finally left the racetrack around 10 p.m. last Sunday, after sitting around sharing stories and slamming a few cold ones. They took pictures of themselves on the track at the finish line.
The happiest were Truex and Pollex. The Traverse City native underwent radical surgery last August following her cancer diagnosis. Pollex lost part of her stomach, as well as her spleen, appendix and ovaries. Pollex’s health has improved, but she still must undergo monthly chemotherapy treatments until February.
“I think it’s changed me,” Truex said. “It’s made me a better person. It’s made me understand life a lot more and help me appreciate the things I do have a lot more. And quite honestly, as long as Shelly stays healthy from here on out, it’s almost a blessing in disguise. I know that’s kind of a weird thing to say because we’re talking about cancer.”
It has been a rough ride for Truex, but everything he has gone through has provided him with a balance he admittedly lacked previously.