The 2016 Coca Cola 600 was dominated by Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. Leading 392 of 400 laps, Truex put on one of the most dominating performances in NASCAR history. While story lines surrounded the history of Truex and his long time girl friend Sherry Pollex, another story is being looked over. In this post, I want to discuss the evolution of one of the most unique teams in NASCAR. Over the last 11 years, Barney Vissor has grown his team from an irrelevant mid-pack organization to a championship contender. Enough talking... let's get walking!
It all started in 2005. Owner Barney Visser established his race team in Denver, Colorado. With every other Cup team located in the Carolina's, Furniture Row Racing (FRR) began as an outcast. Making their first Cup start, the team finished 34th with driver Kenny Wallace. Jerry Robertson would later drive for Visser in their second and last start of the 2005 season, finishing 41st.
The next 5 years didn't get much brighter. Veterans Joe Nemechek and Kenny Wallace became pioneer drivers for the 78 car, but found little success. Visser's team faced much adversity during their first full-time season in 2008, running 32 of 36 points events. The teams only highlight was a pole at the 2008 spring race at Talladega, with 'Front Row Joe' behind the wheel. Nemechek and Wallace would part ways with the team following the 2008 season, leaving the seat open for 25-year-old, Regan Smith. Smith, a young driver who was only known for his gut wrenching 'should be' win at Talladega in 2008, would run just half the season with FRR. Finishing with six top-25 results in '09, Visser and his #78 car would return to full-time action in 2010.
In 2010, Visser's team had their best season to date, bringing home twelve top-20 finishes including four top-15's. Still searching for their first top-10, the 78 team had high expectations heading into the 2011 season... little did they know what was to come. Smith started the 2011 season by finishing 7th in the Daytona 500, giving the team their first top-10 result. As the season progressed, Smith and Visser faced adversity together, with an average finish of 27.75 over the next 8 races. Sitting 29th in the standings, Smith, Visser and fans alike didn't expect what would come next. In one of the craziest Darlington races in history, Regan Smith would lead 11 laps in route to winning the 2011 Southern 500. This would be the teams first win and top-5 result in their nearly 7-year existance.
Regarded as one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history, Smith wouldn't stop with his win at the 'Lady in Black'. The 78 team would score another top-5 in the Brickyard 400 and finish the season with a total of five top-10's. The 2012 season would bring changes to FRR, with Smith running just 30 events until 2004 champion Kurt Busch joined the team. After facing late season issues at Phoenix Racing, Busch would pilot the 78 car for the final 6 events of the 2012 season. Adding to Smith's one top-5 and three top-10's (scored in first 30 races), Busch would score three consecutive top-10 finishes to cap off the season.
After a strong finish to the 2012 season, Busch moved into 2013 with hopes of guiding the 78 team to their first Chase appearance. The 2004 champion would accomplish this goal by scoring a team high eleven top-5's and sixteen top-10's, leading to a 10th place finish in the drivers standings. Busch parted ways with the team after 2013, joining Stewart-Haas Racing. Looking for a driver, FRR stumbled across two time Xfinity Series champion, Martin Truex Jr. Controversy at Michael Waltrip Racing led to Truex being on the move for the 2014 season, giving FRR a chance to sign a two time Cup series winner.
During 2014, Truex and FRR fell on hard times, scoring just one top-5 and five top-10's. While many fans forgot about the 78 team after such a dismal season, Truex and the 78 team shocked the NASCAR world in 2015. With new crew chief Cole Pearn (previously team engineer), Truex started the season with 7 consecutive top-10 finishes. The 78 kept on rolling with 14 top-10's in the first half of the season, including a win at Pocono. Suddenly the mid-pack team became a favorite for the championship. With a few bumps in the road, Truex and Pearn would continue to be the recipe for success during the Chase, where Truex would race his way into the championship four at Homestead. Finishing the race in 12th, the 78 team would finish a team high 4th in the final standings.
In addition to new success, owner Barney Visser announced a huge change coming for the FRR organization. Beginning in 2016, FRR would end their long term alliance with Richard Childress Racing and partner with Toyota and Joe Gibbs. Now, a third of the way through the 2016 season, it looks as though the new partnership has worked well for Visser and FRR. After failing to close the deal on multiple races including the 2016 Daytona 500, Truex dominated the Coca Cola 600 by leading 588 of the scheduled 600 miles. Now locked into the Chase, Truex and second year crew chief Cole Pearn are again a championship favorite. As the season progresses look for the 78 team to score a few more W's and be in contention for the title in the fall.
Overall, Furniture Row Racing may be a favorite among fans now, but just 11 short years ago Barney Visser was just a man with a dream. Through the help of wiley veterans, a former champion, a young crew chief, and a driver looking to prove himself, Visser can finally enjoy the fruits of his labor. Many don't remember the days when this car was dark red and brown, but now we all recognize that mat black and neon orange Toyota flying around the track. This team proves that a small team can become a heavy hitter with enough determination. If we have all learned one thing, it is that it's one thing to be fast, but another to be #FurnitureRowFast.
Thanks for reading!!! Sorry for taking some time off, but I have been enjoying my post-graduation month! Remember to follow me on Twitter at @nascar_opinion and on Instagram at NASCAR OPINION!!! As always comment below or tweet your thoughts on this post! Sure has been a long road for Barney Visser and his team! Congrats to all of Furniture Row Racing on their success! Thanks again, and have a great day my #NASCARfamily!
(Photo Credits: Gerry Broome/Associated Press, Business Wire, David Yeazell, thepodiumfinish.net, Jim Dedmon/USA Today Sports, motorsport.com)