CHARLOTTE, N.C. - An array of tropical trees, the sandy beach and a massive vacation home served as the backdrop for Martin Truex Jr.'s appearance during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour last month.
The exotic setting in Anguilla could have easily distracted one from Truex's relaxed and upbeat attitude. The Stafford Township, N.J., native was vacationing in the Caribbean island away from the near-freezing temperatures that have hit the Mid-Atlantic this winter.
But there was something different about the way Truex talked about the upcoming season compared to when he addressed it four months ago.
The media firestorm over getting bumped from last season's Chase for the Championship and then losing his ride with Michael Waltrip Racing was replaced with optimism and a refreshed outlook with Furniture Row Racing for the upcoming season.
"I really enjoyed my time at MWR and all the things we did together. We were able to build that organization up to a championship-contending team. That was a lot of fun," he said during a video teleconference.
Truex and his No. 78 car will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 pole today starting at 1 p.m. on Fox. His younger brother, Ryan, will also compete in the No. 83 car for BK Racing.
"I really honestly hated the way it ended; just being able to get away from it and start over and try to forget about all the bad things that happened because there were so many good things that happened there over the four years I spent," the 33-year-old continued. "Being able to just get away, forget about it and start over with a new team is definitely something that's been a good thing for me."
Truex joins Furniture Row, a single-car operation based in Denver, after a season where he got his second career victory at Sonoma and was on the verge of making the Chase.
But all of that good was derailed by the actions of his MWR teammates at Richmond International Raceway in early September. A single-car spin by Clint Bowyer followed by Brian Vickers' unscheduled pit stop during the final green-flag run was determined by NASCAR to be intentional manipulation in an attempt to get Truex into the Chase.
NASCAR took the unprecedented move of kicking Truex out of the championship hunt, which later led to the loss of NAPA as his primary sponsor. Suddenly the 33-year-old was a free agent in a market with very few high-end rides available.
Truex was vulnerable and had to to showcase what he could do in a lame-duck situation - hoping a team would take notice.
Luckily, with Kurt Busch leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing, Furniture Row saw the opportunity to sign Truex to a long-term deal at the beginning of November.
"The minute that it was a done deal, he was all in," said Todd Berrier, Truex's new crew chief. "He seemed relatively - I don't know if it was relieved, I don't know what it was - normal. Its not like he's trying to find his way. He just fits. It's been relatively normal and that's just his nature, the way he is."
Rondeau a key for Truex
A key figure in bringing Truex to Furniture Row was Pete Rondeau, who is entering his second season as the team's director of competition. Rondeau worked at Dale Earnhardt Inc. when Truex was signed by Chance2 Motorsports in early 2003. Chance2 was a Busch Series team formed by Teresa Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. that was separate of DEI and fielded Truex's No. 8 Chevrolet for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
After recording a pair of runner-up finishes at Rockingham and Homestead to close the 2003 season, Truex won a pair of Busch Series (now Nationwide) championships and 12 victories over the next two seasons to land a full-time Sprint Cup ride with DEI.
In four seasons there, he won once in 2007 at his home track of Dover.
"When we found out that we weren't going to have Kurt coming back, you obviously want a top-tier driver coming into your organization. When he did become available, it was evident that he was one of the top-tier Chase-caliber drivers," Rondeau said. "Caliber-wise, he's right there. As far as our organization, what Martin has strived to do ever since he started the program is keep advancing the program. This will be an equal step for us."
Truex said many times during his brief question-and-answer session that he was confident that he can make the Chase with Furniture Row. Busch made the Chase last season and Regan Smith won the organization's only Cup race, the Southern 500 at Darlington, in 2011.
"I hope I can bring some things to the team that they haven't seen before," Truex said, "and take the team to the next level."
The one area Truex stressed during the media tour was focusing on "the little things that we take for granted when we spend years upon years with one team."
As those things start falling into place and the comfort level begins to rise with the organization, the quicker everything that transpired last season can become part of the past.
"I think that honestly a lot of things happened last year and I think that the best thing for me is to move on and try to forget about them," he said. "I think this definitely helps that process."
What will also aid in the process is Furniture Row's technical relationship with Richard Childress Racing. Truex was teammates with Paul Menard at DEI and calls Ryan Newman "absolutely one of my best friends in this world."
Having that type of relationship will aid in the communication between the organizations that should allow Truex and the No. 78 team to be competitive each weekend at the track. Truex was fast in Saturday morning's practice at Daytona, finishing in the Top 5 at one point.
The new team and the established friendships provide the stability for Truex. It could also allow him a chance at redemption and a shot at making the Chase.
That is all he wants. And it is all his team wants.
"I've been fortunate enough to be in the Chase a few times and been unfortunate enough to be kicked out of it before," Truex was able to say with a smile and a laugh.
If there was any indication he has moved on and started fresh, it was that one-liner - scenic backdrop and all aside.