It’s still not clear what team Martin Truex Jr. will race for next year, which is quickly becoming one of the season’s most surprising subplots.
Truex is the defending Cup Series champion and has already won four times this season, so performance clearly isn’t an issue. And yet, here he is in mid-August — the traditional heart of Silly Season — with no contract for 2019.
So what gives?
“Right now, we need sponsorship,” Truex said of Furniture Row Racing. “That’s as simple as it gets. So it’s hard to say. Is there a 50 percent chance we get that in the next couple weeks, or is there 100 percent or 2 percent? I don’t know. I can tell you everything really is based upon that.”
No. 78 team sponsor 5-Hour Energy announced it was leaving the sport in July, which means Furniture Row must find a replacement (all indications are team owner Barney Visser feels he’s spent enough of his own money funding the team in the past) to be paired with Bass Pro Shops.
Truex said it was “hard to put a number” on the chances he’d be back in the 78 car next year, which speaks to the complications of the economic climate in NASCAR. While NASCAR continues to promote the positives about the state of sponsorship, the reality is Truex and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson both need new sponsors for 2019.
And without a replacement sponsor, it’s hard to sign a driver to a new contract. After all, where would the money come from?
“I’m starting to hear rumors,” Truex said in acknowledging the growing Silly Season talk about himself. “That’s kind of how it works in this sport. I’ve been in this position before.
“I’ve got a great team. Barney has done a lot for my career and it’s something we all want to keep going. We just need a little bit of time to let the dominoes fall in place and see if we can keep it going. If not, I have to figure it out from there.”
Furniture Row issued a statement to SportsBusiness Journal earlier this month saying “not fielding a team in 2019 is not an option.” But until a new sponsor is found, there seems to be an unknown about what the future looks like.
All of it has likely caught even Truex by surprise. As recently as July, a confident Truex indicated he and the team weren’t in a hurry to get a deal signed.
“It’s not really a pressing issue for me,” he said the week after 5-Hour’s announcement last month. “I know what the team wants. I know where we’re all at. It’s not like I’m nervous they’re going to sign somebody else or I’m going to be searching for a ride. It’s nothing like that. It’s more just trying to focus on racing and feeling like it will get done when it gets done.”