This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Good to the Last Lap

Furniture Row Racing dominated the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017

By Casey Light

Despite being the best team in NASCAR by a wide margin in 2017, Denver-based Furniture Row Racing needed everything to break their way — down to the very last lap in the final race of the year — to deliver the team’s first Cup Series Championship. More than 10,000 laps and nearly 14,000 miles over 10 months came down to a little more than half a second. It was a fitting finish for a team whose motto this year was “Never give up.”

When Martin Truex Jr. took the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 19, he edged Kyle Busch, the driver that had been close in his rearview mirror all season long, by a mere .681 seconds. The victory capped a season that saw Truex’s No. 78 Toyota Camry earn more wins, top-5 and top-10 finishes than any other car on the circuit. Truex was tops in laps led (21 percent), average start (6.8) and average finish (9.4). But that final win to deliver the championship didn’t come easy.

He can thank crew chief Cole Pearn for the bold strategy in the championship race, aided by a late caution to slow the hard-charging Busch. He can also thank a crew that was one of the best on the circuit all season long. He can thank his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who was there by his side to celebrate in Victory Lane, and his teammate Erik Jones, who drove the No. 77 car to a top-20 finish on the season. Most importantly, he can thank general manager Joe Garone and owner Barney Visser, who in 2013 believed Truex was the driver who could one day deliver a championship.

Every one of those thank you’s comes with its own unique twist on “Never give up.”

Pearn, a native of Ontario, Canada, unexpectedly lost his best friend to a bacterial infection in August. Four days later, a grieving Pearn devised the perfect race strategy to deliver a win at Watkins Glen – the team’s fourth win of the season and only win on a road course in 2017.

Two and a half months later, on Oct. 22, Furniture Row Racing suffered a loss that hit even closer to home when road crew fabricator Jim Watson died of a heart attack the night before the final race of the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 12. The team dedicated their efforts in the Hollywood Casino 400 to Jim’s memory and delivered their seventh win of the year and a season sweep at Kansas Speedway.

It has been a much longer road for Pollex, who this year underwent treatments for a recurrence of ovarian cancer that first appeared in 2014. The same week Pollex had to go under the knife this time, Truex drove to victory in Kentucky. She wasn’t there to celebrate that victory, but she was there in Miami.

While putting together the No. 78 car’s best-ever season, Furniture Row Racing was also fielding a second car for the first time ever. It was an up-and-down season for Jones, the rookie who finished second-to-last in his first Daytona 500. He would rebound to earn five top-5 finishes and 14 top-10s, winning the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year and a 19th-place overall finish in the final driver standings.

Garone oversaw it all as team president, boasting the only crew among the Championship 4 contenders whose chief was not suspended during the course of the season for a tech violation. In fact, the No. 78 team was never even put on probation in 2017.

And watching from home as Truex delivered that nail-biting eighth and final win to secure the Cup Series Championship was Visser, unable to celebrate his team’s 12-year journey in person after suffering a heart attack of his own just two weeks ahead of the season finale. Visser underwent successful bypass surgery and celebrated in Denver as Furniture Row Racing, a team he never gave up on, raised the Cup.

For their unparalleled success and indomitable spirit, Furniture Row Racing earns our Team of the Year.