(Smith's upset Southern 500 victory at Darlington highlighted a surprisingly successful season for Furniture Row)
Furniture Row Racing made some huge strides in 2011 as the team continued to battle against the odds as a single car entity headquartered in Denver, Colorado.
Despite being a solo effort based well outside of the Charlotte NASCAR hub, Furniture Row can proudly look back at a year that saw Regan Smith give the organization a win in the Southern 500.
The 2011 season saw Smith and Furniture Row Racing score that Darlington as well as two top-fives and five top-tens - a marked improvement since the team did not have even a single top ten finish prior to the 2011 season.
"We made so much progress this season and feel that we're on the edge of hitting a new level of competition," said Smith, who finished twenty-sixth in the final standings.
Although the organization shares an alliance with Richard Childress Racing, team owner Barney Visser has kept its headquarters in the Denver area despite the logistical challenges.
"Basically he’s said ‘this is my hometown,’” Smith told the Denver post about his boss. “I want the race team here, I live here, I want to be able to go to it, and see it, and have my hands on it and being involved with it,' and that's what he's done.
"It's a little more travel. We have to organize stuff ahead of time when it comes to parts, pieces, engines and things like that, but it's worked out really well and we've got great people out there."
Despite overcoming the odds, Visser says that operating in Colorado rather than in North Carolina doesn’t provide any additional satisfaction for his success.
"The fact that I've proven people wrong doesn't really mean anything to me," Visser said. "Just knowing that we can win every time we can go to a race track — really knowing it — is just huge for me. It adds a lot of thrill to the game. It's a lot of fun."
Smith’s Mother’s Day weekend win at Darlington was the high point of Furniture Row’s fun in 2011. The team outran Carl Edwards to the checkered flag despite not having four fresh tires and Smith called it the biggest accomplishment of his racing career.
“This race is so special and so meaningful,” Smith said in victory lane. “We were standing there looking at the names and the faces on the trophy, and you just look at it, and you think, ‘My face is going to be there right next to these guys, and it’ll be there forever.”
Things leveled off a bit as the summer wore on for Smith but he was still able to stay in the hunt for several more top five and ten finishes before the year ended.
And the team was also able to escape a potentially disastrous situation when its hauler nearly caught fire at Talladega in October.
“They were just taking the fuel probe off the can and it just ignited – it blew up,” General Manager Joe Garone said of the incident that ignited flames directly next to the team’s hauler. “The tractor got a little bit of damage. It melted all the hoses. … We just need to have this one repaired. It was more scary than anything.”
(Fortunately there were no injuries or significant damage from the Talladega fire that broke out)
The team comes into the new campaign virtually unchanged with Smith back as driver and crew chief Pete Rondeau returning to call the shots.
The veteran crew chief likes the foundation the team is building and understands the benefits of being aligned with RCR as well.
“When you’re a single-car team in this day and age, you need to be aligned with another operation,” Rondeau said. “And fortunately for Furniture Row Racing, we have aligned ourselves with one of the best in Richard Childress Racing.
“Our technical and engineering alliance with RCR have made us a better team, no doubt about that. The data we receive from RCR has been very beneficial to our program and one of the reasons we made positive strides during the end of the 2010 season. RCR had three teams in the Chase in 2010, and to be aligned with those three teams is pretty stout. It’s been a great relationship with the folks at RCR and I anticipate more of the same in 2011.”
Rondeau feels comfortable coming into 2012 and sees no reason why improvement cannot continue.
“It’s all about consistency and keeping up with technology,” he said. “We kept on saying in 2010 that this is the first year of a three-year process.
“We made strides this past year and expect that to keep on going in 2012.”
Smith echoes the sentiment of his crew chief.
"We made some big gains this season as a team and accomplished many of our goals," said Smith. "But we still didn't accomplish everything we wanted to so there's still plenty to get done. But with that said, I feel we are at a point where we are ready to reach another level of competition. I have the same feeling I had last year at this time."
The odds are still stacked against Furniture Row as long as it remains a one car team. Confidence is high within the organization after the successful 2011 campaign and the Darlington win proved under the right circumstances Smith can drive with the best in the business. But a realistic goal in 2012 should be maybe another trip to victory lane and a finish inside the first twenty of the point standings. Anything more would have to be considered an extraordinary accomplishment in this David vs. Goliath story.
|More NASCAR coverage|