When the same driver-team combination wins five consecutive championships and seven overall in an 11-year span, the competition will want to replicate it to find success.
That’s what Jimmie Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 crew have accomplished. Many teams looked at them as a role model because of the dominance they’ve had in NASCAR for more than a decade.
But over the last two years, Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 team with Martin Truex Jr. has been at the pinnacle of stock car racing. They’ve won 12 races since the start of 2016 and enter the new year as the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions.
Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn have a chemistry that might be as strong as Johnson and Chad Knaus when the No. 48 was in its prime. So can the No. 78 possibly equal that over the next few years?
“I certainly hope so,” Truex said. “I think it’s more challenging today to find advantages. But we certainly keep advantages with the rules and the way things are. Everything’s just so close.
“I think some of our advantages we can keep because it’s a lot of stuff we keep close to the vest. A lot of it is personnel and mindsets and the way we work together. Our chemistry of our team, a lot of those things are parts and pieces of our success and part of why we feel like we’ve had an advantage.”
NASCAR has leveled the playing field regarding competition over the last few years. Whether it’s engine manufacturers working closely with teams, teams sharing data through alliances or the charter system, it’s not as easy as it once was to be a dominant car on a weekly basis.
Yet Furniture Row has still managed to do just that.
“You’re not going to outspend anybody anymore like you used to and come up with some crazy setups that no one can figure out,” Truex said. “Those days are gone. It’s definitely going to be difficult, but I feel like we’ve got a great team, and we still have things we can improve on as we move forward.”
It’s difficult to imagine the No. 78 Toyota being any more dominant than it was last year. Truex led 2,253 laps, had 19 top fives, eight wins and an average finish of 9.4. That’s the type of numbers expected to be seen from Johnson in the late 2000s and Jeff Gordon in the 1990s.
Can domination like this still be sustained for multiple years at a time?
“We’ll just have to see,” Truex said. “Hopefully we can continue our success.”