Team owner Barney Visser isn’t about to declare the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season a success for his Furniture Row Racing team. Not yet, anyway.
Visser, a tall, bearded and somewhat shy man, knows only too well how brutal the racing gods can be. In the 2014 Daytona 500, Martin Truex Jr. qualified the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet on the outside pole for the Daytona 500 and had one of the fastest cars all throughout Daytona Speedweeks. But the belt on Truex’s oil pump fell off early in the race and he finished a hugely disappointing 43rd.
"You just never know in racing," Visser said in an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com. "You can have the best car in the field and still get your clock cleaned. It’s that kind of business. It’s a little bit of luck and a whole lot of preparation. We think we’re as prepared as we’ve ever been. We’ll see what happens."
So far in 2015, what’s happened is that the Denver-based Furniture Row team has been the most improved team in the sport.
Last year, Truex finished way back in 24th in points, posting just one top-five and five top-10 finishes in 36 races. This year, he has matched those totals in just five races and has climbed all the way to third in points heading into Martinsville Speedway this weekend.
And while much has been written already about Truex, and the struggles he endured last year on track and while helping longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex in her battle with cancer, the behind-the-scenes story is pretty good, too.
Visser and general manager Joe Garone paired Truex with first-time crew chief Cole Pearn, a Canadian who spent two-and-a-half years working as an engineer on Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet before Harvick left for Stewart-Haas Racing.
"It was a great opportunity to dig in and sink in, get a lot of skills and opportunity from the base," said Pearn of his work with Harvick. "It really helped me."
In addition to his talent, Pearn was desirable for another reason: He actually wanted to live in Denver, which is often a difficult sell to crew members used to living in the South. In fact, Pearn’s predecessor, Todd Berrier, left Furniture Row to move back home to North Carolina.
"I liked Colorado a whole lot more than I liked North Carolina, so it all made sense from that standpoint," said Pearn. "I really like the outdoors and I’m a very active person, so Colorado seems like a happy spot for me."
According to Pearn, there is no single factor responsible for the team’s big improvement this year.
"There’s typically never one silver bullet that fixes things. It’s a lot of little things," he said. "I think when we ran so bad in 2014, that over the winter, they dug in and put all hands on deck."
"I think it’s just focus," said Garone. "Taking a look at that year where we didn’t run well and looking in the areas where we felt we were off. Just identifying those areas is a job in itself."
Garone said the team worked hard on improving its cars and reacting to change more quickly.
"When somebody gets onto a new part or a piece or a procedure or something that works better, you’ve got to be able to move quick," said Garone.
The next step is to find a primary sponsor for Truex’s car so Visser isn’t self-funding the team, as he has since its inception in 2005. And the fight for sponsor dollars might even be fiercer than the on-track competition.
"We’re always looking for sponsors," Visser said. "Very difficult, but we’re always looking. It’s a group of very tough competitors out here and they’ve got huge marketing departments and we’re a little light in that arena. We’ll see what we can get done there. I think by midseason, we should have somebody lined up (for 2016)."
Visser said that running well, like Truex and the team are this year, is a lot more fun than struggling.
"This has been as challenging as anything I’ve ever done," Visser said of running a race team. "I’m more in love with it this year in third place than I was last year in 25th; I can tell you that."