BY DAN GELSTON
LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. has a sudden thirst for sponsorship cash.
Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team had about three weeks’ notice that 5-hour Energy was set to leave the defending NASCAR champion as a primary sponsor at the end of the season.
After a 10-year relationship, the NASCAR buzz wore off for the energy brand, the latest big-bucks corporate defector from the sport. 5-hour’s departure leaves Furniture Row scrambling for coveted sponsorship dollars for the No. 78 Toyota and one of the top drivers in the Cup Series.
“I wish it didn’t take quite as long as it did,” Truex said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “It kind of puts us in a tough spot now. But I’m not really, really worried. I think something good can come out of this.”
Furniture Row should be able to attract a top sponsor: Truex has 16 wins since 2016 and FRR has sponsorship funding from Bass Pro Shops and Auto-Owners Insurance, and is locked in with Toyota, the class of the manufacturers.
“I just can’t imagine there isn’t some partner out there that wouldn’t want to be partnered with this whole group,” FRR President Joe Garone said. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest just in the days since we’ve announced it.”
But Truex’s success wasn’t enough for 5-hour to keep pumping the millions of dollars needed to help fund the 78 and the car isn’t the only one on the market. Lowe’s decided to cease its relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson at the end of the season after winning seven NASCAR titles.
It’s emblematic of the overall sponsor woes when the last two series champions, like other big names, can’t even keep a long-term backer
“A lot of things go into those decisions,” Truex said. “I don’t know a ton about their business and how it’s doing or anything like that. Obviously, you’d think that with the success we’ve had and kind of how the last two years for us have went that, it’s certain we delivered on our end of the deal.”
Rise’ Meguiar, president of sales for Living Essentials, parent company of 5-hour Energy, said this week the choice to leave the sport was a “business decision.” The company declined further comment Friday.
5-hour was the primary sponsor for 14 races this season, Bass Pro was scheduled for 16 and Auto-Owners for six. Team owner Barney Visser had used his Furniture Row company as a sponsor in the past — Truex wears an FRR firesuit next to Johnson in his Lowe’s suit on the New Hampshire race program cover — but it would be a last-gasp move to put FRR back on the hood.
Garone said the primary goal was to get the Toyota fully funded with outside partners.
5-hour had been a NASCAR primary sponsor for nearly a decade, including the last seven at the Cup Series level. The company joined Furniture Row Racing in 2017 as majority primary sponsor on the No. 77 Toyota and Rookie of the Year winner Erik Jones, as well as a season-long associate and two primaries on the No. 78 with Truex. It became a primary for Truex this season when Jones, who won two weeks ago at Daytona, went to Joe Gibbs Racing.
5-hour stuck with NASCAR in the aftermath of the worst cheating scandal in the sport’s history. NAPA Auto Parts cut ties in 2013 when Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated a race to get Truex into the playoffs. But 5-hour stayed on when times were tough — and cut bait when it was riding high as a victory lane regular.
“Some things don’t make sense unless you’re inside the inner working and we’re not there,” Garone said. “I’m sure they’ve got a plan.”
FRR and Truex said the sponsorship search would not derail their plans toward working on a contract extension. Truex won only two career races in eight full seasons before he joined Denver-based FRR in 2014 and his career soon skyrocketed toward a championship run.
Garone, who said FRR will “absolutely” eventually return to a two-car operation, said Truex’s deal would get done.
“It’s not real tough with Martin. He wants to race with us, we want to race with him,” he said.
Truex lost a sponsor this week, but he at least won an ESPY for best driver. He skipped the award show for a fishing trip and said he didn’t think he was invited, anyway. ESPN said Friday an invitation was emailed and faxed on June 19 to FRR and two Truex representatives.
“You want to get to Truex you better have his number,” friend and former driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted.
FRR will surely give it to any sponsor that wants to make a deal.
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