Truex sees brighter days ahead both on, off-track in 2015

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Martin Truex Jr. has had a rough last year and a half, both personally and professionally.

First, he was released by Michael Waltrip Racing when NAPA pulled its sponsorship near the end of the 2013 season.

Then, while Truex was able to rebound by replacing Kurt Busch at Furniture Row Racing, last season was one of more struggles than successes, ultimately finishing 24th in the final standings, the worst finish of his nine full-time seasons in Sprint Cup competition.

Off the track, Truex’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, has been battling Stage III ovarian cancer.

MORE: Truex’s girlfriend passes milestone in cancer recovery

But now, Truex believes things are turning around for the better both on and off the racetrack.

He has a new crew chief, Cole Pearn, formerly the team’s chief engineer. Pearn replaces Todd Berrier, who moved to Joe Gibbs Racing as its new director of inspections.

Pollex had her last chemotherapy treatment this past Monday and her diagnosis is optimistically good.

And Truex feels refreshed and ready to go in 2015, especially after a strong surge in the final nine races of last season, when he had a top-five, a top-10, four top-15s and two other top-20 finishes.

“For sure, it was getting better, we were starting to figure things out and see where we were making our mistakes, where we went wrong, so to speak,” Truex said Thursday during the final day of the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C.

“Getting Cole on the box at the end of last year was a really good indication of what this year’s going to bring for us communication-wise and those type of things,” Truex added.

“The year started getting better, it had more bright spots at the end. But I’ll be honest with you, the way the past year and a half had went, I was glad the season was over and I was ready to start a new one fresh.”

And Truex will start fresh with Pearn.

“It’s been something we’ve kind of preparing for,” Pearn said. “The last few years, I’ve had this in mind that this day would come and I’ve tried to take steps beforehand to be prepared for when it came. It’s just a matter of making the final transition and I’m looking forward to it.

“Any team that’s still relatively in its infancy is going to have those peaks and valleys. For the most part, we’ve been climbing the mountain and this is the first year that we’ve kind of been on the other side of it. … I feel like we’ve got a really good direction right now and think it’s going to provide dividends in the future.”

Added FRR general manager Joe Garone, “Cole’s been with us for several years. He’s ready to have the reins and we’re really excited to have him in the position he’s going to be in.”

Richard Childress Racing provides the team with motors and other technical support. Truex saw how RCR rallied around Ryan Newman during last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, and how Newman almost won the championship, ultimately finishing second to Cup champ Kevin Harvick.

“To see what (Newman’s team and RCR) did was impressive,” Truex said. “The most impressive part about what they did is they got better, better and better throughout the season.

“Every time they were challenged or their back was against the wall, they were able to step it up and do what they had to do to make it to the next round, whether it be Phoenix (when Newman made the final round of the Chase on the last lap) or having their best run of the year when it mattered most, at Homestead.

“That was impressive to see, and knowing we have the same tools to work with as them, is something that definitely gets us excited about the season and we need to do a good job of using those tools to the best of our ability and hope we can put ourselves in that position coming to the end of the season, as well.”

FRR is celebrating its 10th season in NASCAR racing. Based in Denver, Colorado, it’s the only Sprint Cup team headquartered west of the Carolinas.

It has qualified for the Chase just once, in 2013, when Busch made FRR the first single-car team to ever make the 10-race playoff. Last season, JTG-Daugherty Racing became the second single-car team to make the Chase with A.J. Allmendinger.

It’s difficult to be a one-car team at times, but Truex said the technical alliance with RCR has paid good dividends up to now, and with the prospect of even better dividends this season and beyond.

“As the year went on, especially towards the end of the year and we started performing better and were able to help share some information with them (RCR), and those guys not thinking we were taking, taking, taking, it started to really feel good and started to work well,” Truex said. “Being a single-car team is tough, but that makes it a whole lot easier for us, especially for me, talking about the cars, comparing the setups, that’s definitely helped that communication.

“With a year under our belts and working together, they’re starting to get a feel for what I am, what I like, who I am and how we can work together, and I expect that to be stronger this year.”

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”