2008 Ride: No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
2008 Sponsors: Furniture Row/Denver Mattress
2008 Owner: Barney Visser
2008 Crew Chief: Jay Guy
Stats: 32 races, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 1 pole, 37th in points
Best Finish: 11th (Talladega – October)
High Point: The highlights were far and few between for 45-year-old Joe Nemechek in 2008. Driving for Furniture Row Racing, a third-year, single-car outfit based in Denver, Colo., it was tough to compete with the multi-car giants at most races on the schedule. However, Nemechek and crew were able to take advantage of its Hendrick powerplants at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. Nemechek grabbed the pole for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega in April; he went on to finish 25th in the event, which was his highest finish of the season to that point.
Nemechek topped himself at Daytona in July, finishing 18th in the midsummer classic before capping the plate races with an impressive 11th-place run at Talladega in October after qualifying seventh. That showing wound up being his best of the 2008 season.
Low Point: There were a few for the underfunded organization – but the bottom fell completely out as the season wound down. Following his 11th at Talladega, and despite being under the startling realization of how adversely the economic woes were to affect the team in the coming months, FRR averaged a 39.1-place finish in the season’s final six races, even failing to qualify for the penultimate event of 2008 at Phoenix.
Summary: The 2008 season began with a ray of hope for Furniture Row Racing and Nemechek – although that can be said for any team in any season. A second FRR car, the No. 87 piloted by Kenny Wallace, made the field for the Daytona 500, and plans were for the organization to run the machine in as many races as possible – sponsorship depending. However, the 500 was the first and last race for Nemechek’s teammate, as funding did not allow for any further attempts.
Nemechek himself got off to a rocky start, finishing 41st and 34th in the season’s first two events. He failed to live up to the “Front Row Joe” moniker from there, failing to qualify for three of the year’s first 12 races to keep his car outside the Top 35 in owner points. Digging a hole the team could never quite get out of, Nemechek and team limped into Daytona in July and came away with the aforementioned 18th-place showing, a brief respite from what was a difficult first half.
Unfortunately, the second wasn’t any better. A string of 11 races between Daytona and Talladega did little to boost the team’s spirits, as they were only able to conjure up two 29th-place showings as highlights. The wreck-filled October Talladega race produced a surprise 11th-place run, and that, for all intents and purposes, was the last most would see out of the No. 78 – the season spiraled out of control from there.
Off-Track News: In mid-November, team owner Barney Visser announced that FRR would scale down to a partial schedule in 2009 and that Nemechek would be released of his driving duties at the conclusion of the ’08 season. In what appeared to be an amicable split, Nemechek was freed from his contract that would have kept him in Colorado through the 2010 season.
“Just like the reduced schedule announcement, this buyout of Joe’s contract has nothing to do with his on-track performance,” Team President Joe Garone said. “But our contract with Joe for 2009 was for a full schedule and we’re not able to fulfill that part of the deal. Joe has been a great leader, mentor and driver for Furniture Row Racing – this move is doing what is best for both Joe and our team. It doesn’t require us to have him drive for Furniture Row in 2009, but it doesn’t restrict him from doing what he loves – and that’s racing at the highest level every week of the season.”
2009 Outlook: Unfortunately for Nemechek, a seat in the Cup Series in the upcoming season does not appear to be likely. With teams scaling back operations due to a lack of funding, the amount of seats available to a 40-something driver with zero Cup wins in the last four years are virtually non-existent. Of course, Nemechek has been in this position before – and has landed on his feet each time. However, there’s still no word on any plans for the 1992 Busch Series champion to even jump into a Nationwide car or Camping World Truck – surprising, since Nemechek still has his own Nationwide operation, racing in it sporadically over the last several years.
As for FRR, the team is tentatively set to run a 12-race schedule in 2009 with ’08 Rookie of the Year Regan Smith behind the wheel.
Quote of the Year: “It’s just strange how there’s a lot of stuff going on in the garage right now, but not a lot of people swapping teams. [It’s] just a tough time. You get to the end of the year and [to] all of a sudden [have to] start looking for a ride is pretty tough. There are a lot of things going on in the Nationwide Series, the Trucks. Who knows? I’ll do something.”
“Even if it’s part-time in all of them, I’m going to do a lot.” – Joe Nemechek, commenting on an uncertain future at Homestead in November.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: D
2007 Grade: C-
2008 Grade: D