AP file photo
FORT WORTH, Texas — Martin Truex Jr. had his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship taken away and lost his ride for next season after NASCAR determined his team manipulated the finish of a race to get him there.
"I was terrified. My first thought was what am I going to do next year," Truex said Friday. "It was like getting punched in the face."
Truex now has a new team, signing a multiyear deal to drive for Furniture Row Racing and fill the seat in the No. 78 Chevrolet being vacated by Kurt Busch at the end of this season.
The expected announcement came about two months after Truex appeared to get in the Chase for Michael Waltrip Racing. But in the aftermath of the Sept. 7 race at Richmond, where MWR driver Clint Bowyer spun his car with seven laps remaining as 10 drivers jockeyed for the five available spots in the Chase, NASCAR imposed harsh sanctions that included knocking Truex out of the Chase.
In response, NAPA Auto Parts, citing its belief in "fair play," said it would pull its multimillion-dollar sponsorship from MWR at the end of the year. That will force MWR to reduce from three to two full-time teams next season, leaving Truex as the odd man out.
"It was unfortunate the way everything happened obviously. We never saw it coming. It is one of those things that was definitely unprecedented in the sport we've never seen before. I hate that I had to be a part of it," Truex said. "As unlucky as I got at Richmond a month or two ago, I got just as lucky when this deal turned up."
Furniture Row Racing, which this season became the first one-car team to make the Chase, needed a driver after Busch signed a deal in August to become part of a four-car team with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Truex signed the deal on Thursday night. It's for at least two years with contract options for more with the Denver-based team. Without being specific, Truex said he had "talked to other teams a bit" and there were other offers.
Joe Garone, general manager of Furniture Row, said the team had been looking at every driver available, including some from lower-tier series.
"Sometimes you have to have faith and have patience," Garone said. "It was really a struggle to keep ourselves patient and just pray for the right opportunity to come along. And then, the right opportunity comes along. Probably an opportunity that you just couldn't even dream about having. That's kind of how it went."
MWR released a statement Friday congratulating Truex on his new gig.
"We are very happy to see him in a competitive ride next year and appreciate the professionalism everyone showed throughout this entire process," the MWR statement read.
Truex is wrapping up his eighth full Sprint Cup season, having moved to the top circuit after winning consecutive Nationwide Series championships in 2004 and 2005. He started his Cup career with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing from 2006-09 before going to MWR. He got his second career victory at Sonoma in June.
Describing his time at MWR as a "great four years" he wouldn't change, Truex said it is difficult leaving but knows it is a necessary change.
"There are a lot of different things I had to think about. Just the opportunity to do something to try to be better, I think was the deciding factor," Truex said. "The opportunity to go to a winning race car, start fresh and hopefully do the thing I want to do. ... Just after all the stuff went down I just felt like it was time for change. I think this will be a good one."