TALLADEGA — The Golden State Warriors cut down the nets after another championship, then three months later they deflate the basketballs and leave the NBA. The Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl, and they put a padlock on the locker room and declare everybody a free agent.
Preposterous to think of championship teams doing that, right?
Then there was this, a press release issued Sept. 4, 2018:
“Due to a lack of necessary funding to field a competitive team, Furniture Row Racing has been left with no reasonable option but to cease operations following the completion of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.”
This wasn’t some team like the last sled dog on the leash, with the same dreary view every week. This wasn’t an organization that couldn’t find Victory Lane without GPS directions.
This is the defending NASCAR champion, after the splendid eight-win season of Martin Truex Jr., in 2017. A team that is among NASCAR’s Big 3, sharing with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch 18 of the 30 checkered flags this season.
It’s disheartening news, and it should be a smoke alarm for the rest of the sport. Sponsorships are in six figures for each race and expenses are sky-high. Teams are full of engineers that demand high salaries and they’re traveling places where two-star motels are gouging $250 a night for rooms with mattresses as lumpy as bad oatmeal.
Something’s gotta give — and it gave way at Furniture Row. You have to wonder who’s next.
Truex, 38, will be fine. He’ll take his talents elsewhere. He’s in his prime and he’s wears sponsor colors well. He’s relatable to the NASAR demographic.
It’s not so secure for a lot of employees.
You can’t help wonder about the team’s mindset. How tough it must be to focus on shocks and set-ups when you’re on Indeed.com a couple of times a day and emailing out resumes. It’s even more confounding since Furniture Row Racing is based in Denver. Jump team-to-team in the racing hub of Charlotte, the kids don’t need to go to a new school, the wife doesn’t need to find a new Bunco group, the aisles at Publix aren’t stocked differently.
Truex talked Saturday about the “passion” of his crew.
“The same thing that’s gotten us … to where we are as a team is the same thing that will carry us through the end of the season,” Truex said. “I haven’t seen any reason to worry or be concerned. … The guys are working hard and as fired up as they’ve ever been. Obviously, it’s not the greatest situation for us to be in. They’re doing a great job of being professional and keeping their heads down and trying to do what got us here.”
“Here” is third place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings going into today’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. He’s 32 points behind first-place Harvick but comfortably enough ahead of the bottom four contenders that only a pair of catastrophic finishes in the next two weeks should exclude him from the Round of Eight field.
Truex has not won a Cup Series race at Talladega, something which perplexes him to no end.
“It’s crazy,” he began. “I used to come here in the Busch Series days and the first three times I raced here, I won. I won at Daytona in the July race and I felt like it really wasn’t that difficult and clearly all the stars and moons had lined up at those races for me because I haven’t really been able to reproduce that in the Cup Series.”
This has been a year in which the stars and moons have been all over the firmament for Truex. Four wins — and a team that’s folding. A comfortable playoff spot — and discomfort for the guys who turn the wrenches.
So, what’s in the skies today for Martin Truex Jr.?
Mark McCarter is a special contributor to The Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org