Long Awaited Toyota Alliance Nothing But a Plus For JGR, Furniture Rowby Kyle Pokrefky January 19, 2016
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — During the 2015 edition of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Media Tour, Kyle Busch had some rather critical words regarding the lack of a firm partnership between Joe Gibbs Racing and then Toyota partner Michael Waltrip Racing.
“For us now to be a four-car team, that’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still a greater step that could happen with Toyota and us and Michael Waltrip Racing being able to get closer together. I’m very vocal about it because I feel like we’re idiots by not continuing to work in the right direction in order to put our companies together and do the right things for Toyota and for all of us collectively. It just makes me mad every day they say that nothing has progressed,” Busch stated 12 months ago.
Busch’s critiques weren’t just a one-time issuance, in fact, he had been calling for such an alliance for months before the Media Tour.
Last year, Such an alliance never formed in MWR’s swansong season and with the announcement being made in August that the team was to close at the conclusion of the season, JGR appeared to be left high and dry in terms of finding a suitable partner.
That was until Furniture Row Racing announced the following month that they were to switch to running Toyota Camrys in 2016.
With the announcement of their manufacturer change came the announcement that they were also to forge a technical alliance with the JGR group – satisfying the defending Sprint Cup champion.
Speaking on the announcement during the 2016 Media Tour, Busch stated that he was pleased that his team was able to land such a deal and envisions nothing but greatness to come out of the relationship.
“I think it’s only going to help us,” Busch said. “That was going to be a good thing to happen whether it happened with Michael Waltrip Racing or with Furniture Row Racing. Having Furniture Row on our side – I have a pretty good relationship with Barney Visser and Joe Garrone over there – so those guys are pretty cool to work with.
“Obviously, Joe [Gibbs] felt comfortable with that relationship and bringing them in-house and having a technical alliance with JGR equipment. I think Cole Pearn is a really smart individual, I also think Martin Truex Jr. is a good driver. I think it can help our team and kind of broaden our horizons a little bit.”
As it currently stands, the defending Sprint Cup champion expects the newly forged alliance to benefit primarily Furniture Row Racing; but he sees a point in the future where Furniture Row could be the one benefitting JGR.
“Obviously, those guys are picking on us right now and learning as much as they can about our stuff to help their program,” Busch continued. “Down the road as they get comfortable in it, it’s only going to help us back.”
Part of the allure that led to the crafting for JGR owner Joe Gibbs of such a partnership was the numbers that Furniture Row was putting up over the course of the 2015 season.
Furniture Row driver Martin Truex Jr. successfully earned a place in the championship round alongside of Busch, earned one victory (Pocono) and set career highs in top-fives (eight) and top-10s (22.)
With Truex Jr. behind the wheel, the No. 78 team also set an organization-best average finish of 12.2 over a 14.7 mark set in 2013.
“I think it’s really going to be good for both of us,” Gibbs stated. “I think we’re going to share a lot of technology. They’re a strong, single-car team to do what they did last year.
“You know they’ve got a lot of talent over there. I think it’ll strengthen us and we can strengthen them too. Mutually, I hope, we experience a deal that strengthens both teams.”
For Truex Jr., the timing of the switch to Toyota is perfect for him as it also comes in the same year as major changes being made to the Sprint Cup Series’s race package.
With the low-downforce package utilized at Darlington Raceway and Kentucky Speedway to serve as the standard non-restrictor plate package in 2016, Truex Jr. stated that now was the perfect time for such an alliance to be created with every team on the Sprint Cup grid adjusting to the new package.
“It seems like, from my experiences, is that anytime you have to change team stuff – if there’s a big rules change that goes along with it, it’s probably the best time to do it,” Truex Jr. said. “Everybody’s going to be learning and everybody’s going to be trying to figure out the new package.
“We ran it twice last year, but really there’s going to be a lot more effort that goes into it to get ready for the new season. With everybody building their cars around this package this year whereas last year it was like ‘okay, throw it on there and see what you’ve got.’
“Nobody really knows how it’s going to look at the beginning of the season, we’re in store for hopefully a good one.”
Truex Jr.’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, is hoping to stay ahead of the curve once the season fully gets underway at Daytona International Speedway. Like Truex Jr., he feels confident that they’ll quickly get up to speed once the green flag drops on the 2016 season.
“We’re working obviously as hard as we can to not do that,” Pearn said regarding the possibility of getting out of the gates slow at Daytona. “When it’s done, it’s going to be right.
“There will be obviously some adjustment period and time – at the end of the day, it’s still a race car and the same physics apply whether it’s a Chevrolet or a Toyota. The biggest thing is making sure we don’t have any failures and that sort of thing. I think the performance will come pretty quickly.”
Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images