Owner of Truex car shrugs off missed opportunity

NASCAR

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Barney Visser smiled after his driver, Martin Truex Jr., finished one spot short of a second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series title.

Visser said it was even easy to smile following the 2018 season finale Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway despite knowing that his 14-year NASCAR Cup Series run as the owner of his Furniture Row Racing team was over, as Visser announced in September he would shut down the team after the 2018 season.

Truex, who appeared to have the best long-run car, was in contention to win the race (and the title) before a caution with 20 laps remaining, and then he took the lead on a restart with 15 laps left. But Joey Logano, with the best short-run car, took the lead with 12 laps to go. He went on to win the race and the championship. Truex finished second.

“[My emotions] are all over the board, still,” Visser said. “We had that thing. We had it won and we lost it. But that’s racing. That’s what we signed up to do 14 years ago, right?

“Man, it’s been fun. What a great group of people. It’s a sport that’s the greatest show on earth. I’m glad I got to be a part of it for as long as I did. That’s my mic drop, I guess.”

For Truex, it was hard to smile moments after the race and coming just a spot short.

“I’m really proud of everybody on our team for fighting hard this year to get to where we were, and without that last caution it was in the bag maybe, I think,” said Truex, who joined the team in 2014. “[It] hurts a little and I’m going to miss all the guys, and had a hell of a five years with this team.”

The race was the last for Furniture Row Racing, as the team learned in July that 5-Hour Energy would not return for its 14-race sponsorship and the team could not muster the funding to cover those costs as well as increased fees to continue leasing cars from Joe Gibbs Racing as part of a technical alliance.

Winning 17 races, including 16 in the past three years, in his five seasons at Furniture Row, it was by far the most successful run with an organization of Truex’s career. He, along with crew chief Cole Pearn and several members of the No. 78 team, will move to JGR next year. The 38-year-old Truex will replace Daniel Suarez in the No. 19 car.

“To go from a two-race winner to a 19-race winner, a championship, fourth in points, a second in points, it’s just been amazing,” Truex said about his Furniture Row days. “Everything about it has been great. Everything about it has been the best thing I’ve ever been a part of.

“I feel good about my future and going to a great place, and I know we’ll have more success. But it’s going to be different. It’s going to be a different team, a different cast of characters, and these guys were a special group, and I’m very thankful to get to work with all of them.”

The team tried to keep things as normal as possible and didn’t do many moments to commemorate the final race except taking a team photo.

“It’s tough to lose it that way,” Pearn said. “But I’m still unbelievably proud of that effort.

“Everybody was saying we couldn’t do it and we were done, and then to come out here and have the best long-run car and come that close to winning the championship is pretty unbelievable. … I tried to keep telling everybody we will keep the sappy stuff until after the race and we’ll focus on everything [race-wise] before.”

Visser fielded his first Cup car in 2005 and won his first race with Regan Smith in 2011. Kurt Busch made the playoffs for the team in 2013 and Truex came in the following year after he was left without a ride when NAPA Auto Parts pulled its support from Michael Waltrip Racing following the Richmond race manipulation scandal.

During many of the formative seasons, Visser paid for the team himself through his Furniture Row Racing brand.

“It’s a lot of pressure off — we put a lot of money into this through the years and I won’t have to do that in the future,” Visser said. “That’s the only good I think can come out of [closing] it.

“I’ll miss the guys. I’ll miss the people. We were able to put together a team that was as good as anybody out there.”

The Visser team was a rarity — it was based in Denver, far away from the NASCAR hub in Charlotte.

“I have no regrets,” Visser said. “If somebody told me tomorrow you were going to start a venture like this, even though it got more expensive than you wanted it to and you were going to get a championship and finish second on your last time out, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

That was an interesting choice of words. Visser suffered a heart attack last year and could not be with the team when it won its title. Visser was able to attend the race Sunday.

“My health is terrific,” Visser said. “That feels good. I can smile about that. Last year, I didn’t know what that was going to turn out like.

“This is good. Life is good.”

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