HOMESTEAD, Fla. — At 9:30 p.m. MST Tuesday, the Furniture Row Racing team gathered in its shop in Denver and pushed Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 car into the trailer for the final time this season.
Crew chief Cole Pearn leaned over and playfully kissed tire specialist Tom DiBlasi on the cheek. The rest of the team laughed, but eventually got a little emotional at the thought that they were preparing a car to possibly win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Truex will try to accomplish that feat on Sunday, when he competes against fellow “Championship Four” drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski in the Ford Eco 400 at Homstead-Miami Speedway.
“I thought that video was bad-ass,” said Truex, who saw it for the first time Thursday (watch the video at PressofAC.com/sports). “It gave you chills. Those guys all have that passion and drive. They are relentless and will to do whatever it takes to help us win. Considering what we’ve all been through this season, they want this as bad as I do.”
Truex, who grew up in Stafford Township, has enjoyed phenomenal success this season, winning a series-high seven races. But the victories were accompanied by adversity.
Sherry Pollex, Truex’s longtime girlfriend, has been waging a courageous fight against ovarian cancer since 2014. One of Pearn’s best friends unexpectedly died during the season, as did his dog. Crew member Jim Watson suffered a fatal heart during a go-kart outing with the team in Kansas last month. Two weeks ago, Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser suffered a heart attack.
“I wish a lot of times we didn’t have to go through the things we’ve had to go through,” Pearn said Tuesday in a conference call. “But I also think they made us all a lot closer and pulled our team together that much tighter.
“I think that creates a little bit of resolve and a little bit more focus for us, and just really makes us want to push to continue to close this thing out. I think when it’s all said and done, we’ll be able to look back and reflect on this kind of crazy year that it’s been, and hopefully we’re doing it with a lot of bright spots, as well.”
Geography has also played a role in creating the team’s chemistry and camaraderie.
Most race teams have posh, state-of-the-art shops in the NASCAR hotbed of Charlotte, North Carolina. Furniture Row’s setup is in a non-descript building located in Denver’s Warehouse District.
It required a sacrifice for the crew members, most of whom moved to Denver after growing up and living in other cities. Truex lives in Charlotte, but visits the shop in Denver whenever his schedule permits.
“It took a real commitment from everyone,” said car chief Blake Harris, who grew up outside of Fort Worth, Texas, in a town called Maypearl. “It’s not like North Carolina, where you can just walk down the street and get a job with a team. We’re by ourselves.”
Some gave up other dreams to help Truex achieve his goal.
Harris is an accomplished musician, who turned down several scholarship offers to join the team. Sit him at a piano and he can play Mozart and Billy Joel with equal aplomb.
Truck driver and tire assistant Barry Huston spent eight and a half years in the U.S. Navy, where he served on submarines.
“I joined the team three years ago and it’s been great,” Huston said. “We really are like one big, happy family. We like to joke around and have fun, but when it’s time to get serious, we know how to get the job done. We rock.”
That was evident during Friday’s practice session at the track.
The team was in constant action. Whenever Truex returned to the garage on pit row after a practice run, Pearn, Harris and company reviewed the results and made adjustments.
Across the road, DiBlasi and Huston laid bags of ice on the tires to help cool them off before wheeling them back to the garage for the next run.
There was even someone making food.
“Try the salsa,” one team member said. “It’s homemade.”
This season, the team and Truex have discovered a special way to bond.
Whenever Truex wins a race, the team heads over to his motorcoach in the infield and waits for him to arrive so they can celebrate together.
“A lot of drivers will just jump on a plane and leave after a race, but Martin’s not like that,” Harris said. “We take a team selfie, drink a few beers and just hang out and enjoy the win. We’ve done it seven times this year, and hopefully we’ll get to do it again on Sunday.”