DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Martin Truex Jr. stayed clear of the wrecks that littered the Sprint Unlimited race over the weekend.
He was busy enjoying the clear view ahead.
”I was just glad that it was in my mirror for once,” he said.
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Truex wants to put all of 2014 in his rearview mirror following a disappointing debut for Furniture Row Racing. Truex had the worst numbers of his nine-year career and led all of one measly lap.
That stat is a bit of a shocker for a driver with two career wins and one Chase for the Sprint Cup championship berth. His car blew an engine in the Daytona 500, he finished 43rd, and his No. 78 Chevrolet never really got going last season.
”A lot of struggles that we had really stem from the beginning,” FRR general manager Joe Garone said. ”It took half the rest of the season to get it turned around.”
His performance would turn into the least of Truex’s troubles.
His longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with cancer last summer and she would have various organs removed, including her ovaries, fallopian tubes and part of her stomach. She faces monthly chemotherapy treatments for at least one year.
Furniture Row owner Barney Visser told Truex he could sit out the rest of the season and still keep his ride for 2015. Truex, though greatly appreciative, declined the offer. Truex found the track therapeutic and kept him focused on something other than her disease. He never missed a race in a grueling season where he finished a career-worst 24th in the points standings.
”It’s been miserable for a while,” Truex said. ”Last year was a tough year for us, on and off the racetrack.”
Both sides expected more after a fantastic 2013 for each side made it seem like the new pairing would be an instant hit.
FRR, a one-car operation based in Denver, far removed from NASCAR’s North Carolina hub, made the Chase with Kurt Busch. Truex, whose only Cup win had been at Dover in 2007, won at Sonoma and made the Chase. Truex was booted from the Chase, though, in the aftermath of the Richmond scandal.
Maybe Daytona can serve as a kickoff to a solid season instead of a sneak preview of more misery ahead on the track. He twice had back-to-back top-10 finishes but was unable to otherwise string together much success.
”We had lost a little bit of handle on the cars and got a little bit behind,” Garone said. ”You get caught up thinking maybe it’s our communication, maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that. I think we were wrong at the start of that, putting more emphasis on communication and how we were going about racing. In the meantime, our cars were getting a little bit behind.”
The team mixed it up in the offseason: Furniture Row promoted Cole Pearn from lead race engineer to crew chief, replacing Todd Berrier.
Fast forward to last Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. Truex led a race-high 29 laps – yes, 28 more than all of last season – before giving it up over the final laps to winner Matt Kenseth.
He was frustrated with his lost chance at walking out a winner. But running in front brought with it a feeling of hope.
”It’s been a long time really, a couple years, since I had a car that I could make moves like that with,” Truex said.