It’s only one race.
Still, it’s hard for Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex Jr. not to be overly encouraged with their start to the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season.
Truex and his No. 78 Chevrolet were fast throughout Speedweeks, running up front with the likes of teams from Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske, and left Daytona International Speedway with an eighth-place finish.
“It was by far the best Speedweeks of my career,” said Truex, now in his second season with Furniture Row. “We were consistent with three top-10 finishes and no major damage.”
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Aside from his finish Sunday, Truex was second in the nonpoints Sprint Unlimited race (and led the most laps) and fifth in his Daytona 500 qualifying race.
One year ago, Truex left Daytona dead last (43rd) because of an engine failure. He finished in the top 10 only five times the entire season and didn’t collect his first one until the ninth race.
Sunday, Truex even appeared late in the race to have a shot at the win.
“The guys brought me some really strong cars down there,” said Truex, a two-time winner in the Cup series. “I have to thank them for that. I had a lot of fun.
“I thought we had a shot at the win there until that last caution. I got in the wrong lane on the last restart and got held up a little bit.”
Make no mistake, Truex doesn’t have any misguided expectations on his season simply from the performance in one restrictor-plate race.
He finished a career-worst 24th in the series standings last season, and team general manager Joe Garone admitted the organization “lost a little bit of handle” on tuning its cars and fell behind.
In addition, Truex’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed last year with ovarian cancer and still receives monthly chemotherapy treatments.
In the offseason, the team made several changes, including promoting Cole Pearn from lead race engineer to crew chief, replacing Todd Berrier.
Sunday’s change in circumstances from a year ago does merit at least some optimism.
“This isn’t a guarantee that we’ll run real good all season long, but with the things we did over the winter, the testing we did toward the end of last year, the momentum we gained and the team changes we made, I feel really good about our stuff and what we’re going to do,” Truex said.
A big test looms in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, an intermediate track that produces the type of racing drivers will see much of throughout the season.
Atlanta has been a good track for Truex in recent years – he has finished 14th or better in four of his past five races, including fourth- and third-place finishes.
“We’re looking forward to going there,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite tracks, and we’ll see if we can’t come out of there about seven spots better than Daytona.
“You have to walk before you can run, and I am very proud of the guys for all their work over the winter.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter