Happy days: Martin Truex Jr. seeing the light at Furniture Row Racing

Driver Martin Truex Jr. (left) and Furniture Row Racing general manager Joe Garone share a laugh during the recent Charlotte Motor Speedway preseason media tour.

Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

The opening weeks of the 2015 season have been a pleasant surprise for Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr.

After struggling both on and off the track for the past two seasons, Truex finished second in the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway to kick off the year, then followed that up with an eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500.

Heading to this weekend’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Truex has a bounce in his step that has been missing for quite some time.

"Definitely optimistic about the rest of the year and what we can do," Truex told FOXSports.com Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "I definitely feel like without a doubt we’ll do better than we did last year. It’s just a matter of how well we can do and how far have we come? Atlanta is a good place to measure ourselves against the competition and see what we got."

Truex admitted the Furniture Row Racing team was not exactly where they wanted to be during Thursday’s test session and Friday’s practice. Making it through NASCAR technical inspection in time, Truex was fifth in Round 1 of knockout qualifying Friday night and will start 14th in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Despite the struggles of 2014, the New Jersey native believes the team began to make strides at the end of the season and learned things they could implement during the offseason. Those lessons, coupled with personnel changes, have the team moving in the right direction to kick off the 2015 season.

"We really only had one car last year toward the end of the year that was working for us," he said. "To be able to go back and build some new stuff, try to implement all those things that we learned, and just step it up at each and every race track. That was the biggest thing."

Truex also has been dealing with a far more life-changing event than anything involving his race team since last summer, when his long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Furniture Row team owner Barney Visser offered to let Truex take the last three months of last season off to help Pollex deal with it as she underwent surgery and entered chemotherapy treatment, but Pollex encouraged Truex to continue racing.

Pollex recently finished her final primary chemo treatement as part of a six-month program and now has opted for one year of once-a-month followup chemo treatments. All signs are that she is getting much better, and that also has helped put Truex in a better frame of mind on and off the track.

"She has really inspired me to be a better person, to see the things she has been through, to appreciate things more," Truex said recently during the Charlotte Motor Speedway media tour.

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As for improving performance on the track, Truex has other reasons to be optimistic as well.

During the offseason, Cole Pearn was named crew chief and the organization beefed up its engineering staff. In his first year as crew chief, Truex is more than pleased with how well his relationship with Pearn has developed in their short time together.

"It’s been seamless," Truex said of working with Pearn. "I feel like he took care of most of the car stuff last year, so a lot of the communication was through him anyway. I think he’s done a great job adjusting to his new role as far as the other things he has to take care of as crew chief. We get along well. We have similar personalities, we’re real similar people. Our mindset is closer together more than most driver and crew chiefs are, so hopefully that will pay off in the long run."

While off to a strong start in the opening weeks of the season, Truex is realistic that climbing back into the competitive echelon of NASCAR is not easy and will be a challenge for the team based in Denver, Colo., far away from all other NASCAR teams and even the tracks they all race on.

That reality struck this weekend as they struggled for speed and chased the handling of the No. 78 Chevrolet through testing and Friday practice.

"For us, it’s just figure out where we’re at and hopefully make some good decisions no matter how things are going to get some good finishes, and then continue to work on our program to get better," Truex said.

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