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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New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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