Take a trip back to the end of the 2013 NASCAR Cup season. Martin Truex Jr’s #56 Michael Waltrip Racing team was closing down due to lack of funding. Which was a nice way of saying NAPA didn’t want to be associated with the ridiculous antics MWR became known for. Attempting to fix a race was the last straw. If you broke out a Webster’s dictionary and looked up “champion” MTJ is not the face you would see.
That left two-time Busch Series champion Truex without a ride. With no top-tier rides available he was left wondering what the next step to his career would be. The pristine example of climbing the ladder from home track to home track, getting a break and being the nice guy was on the verge of not being in the series.
Thankfully for Truex, the bad boy of NASCAR Kurt Busch was on a different career path. Two seasons removed from being dropped at Team Penske for berating an aging doctor in Miami, Kurt Busch was making a new career move. After one season in the #51 at Phoenix Racing for James Finch, the 2004 Cup champ moved to Furniture Row’s #78 in 2013. After 10 Top 5’s and an appearance in The Chase, Busch was moving on to Stewart Haas Racing in 2014 to form the Fantastic 4 of NASCAR badasses.
Denver’s Furniture Row Racing had a seat available. The small lovable team from the mile high city back when mile high meant elevation who had a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. A team that came from being a start and park team in 2006 with a guy named Jerry Robertson (sadly no relation to Pat Robertson) was finally a contender and looking for a driver to build around. Kurt Busch decided he wasn’t going to be that guy.
Insert Ryan Blaney
Before Barney Visser and the Furniture Row team turned to Martin Turex Jr. there was another driver they were looking at. None other than Brad Keselowski Racing’s Young Ryan Blaney. At the time he was a driver in the truck series with 2 wins and a Xfinity win to his name. A guy with huge upside but was sitting in career purgatory with the evil empire like he was on Oceanic Flight 815.
With no clear plan for where he was going, Furniture Row Racing apparently inquired about Blaney. Obviously, Blaney passed on the opportunity to go full-time Cup racing and see where things went with BKR/Penske. It was a smart move at the time, Furniture Row had one win in 2011 with Regan Smith at that point. Why would Blaney jump over there at that time? Imagine having the opportunity to join the Golden State Warrior in 2012, you’d have laughed at the idea.
Imagine Fernando Alonso passing on joining Red Bull in 2010, or leaving Ferrari too early, you’d regret that forever. Or any player that forced a trade only to watch their former team win the championship the next season. Ryan Blaney passed on Furniture Row only to watch them become the Houston Astro’s of NASCAR. Years of losing, years of building, finally pay off with a Sports Illustrated cover.
Blaney chose to stay in the Ford fold. He became the first talent to put his faith in Ford and not jump ship like Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, and every other driver Ford has paid to develop. Maybe Ricky Stenhouse Jr. put his faith in them too but that doesn’t help the story.
It paid off for Blaney joining the Wood Brother’s team and bringing them back to prominence. One win is great, Furniture Row has won 12 races with Truex in the last two seasons though. The driver has talent, the car is superior. Blaney could have had that car with his talent and fans would be bemoaning Blaney. Imagine that blasphemous thought. You can’t hate the flow, the aviators, the hats.
Truex was the backup plan. He was the girl we all have in our back pocket when we need to go to a party. A solid go to but nothing flashy. A great role player, never the star. Truex was the Scottie Pippen at the time. We knew him, we thought he could be good but he needed everything around him. Visser and team turned to Martin and decided to build around him.
One championship later the Canadian whose name used to translate into “throws the race away” Cole Pearn looks like a genius. A startup now essentially a 5th JGR car won the championship. Truex has a lot of people to thank for keeping him in the series, Blaney should be one of them supposedly.
Is giving a guy 12 years to prove himself going to be the new norm? Not sure we can handle 12 years of Bayne, and the Dillon’s telling us they’re building. Hey Andy Dalton, you ever going to win? Sure talk to me in 2023.
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