On the surface it looks basically the same. But behind the scenes it’s a whole new look for the Furniture Row Racing team, which made significant personnel moves during the offseason as it readies to return to a full 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule in 2010.
The team's driver (Regan Smith), car number (78) and car manufacturer (Chevrolet) remain the same for the new campaign, which kicks off Sunday Feb. 14 with NASCAR’s traditional season opener -- the Daytona 500.
But when you get beyond the driver, car make and car number, the Denver-based Furniture Row team is quite different than it has been in recent years. For starters, more than 20 new employees were hired during the offseason, increasing the team’s growing staff to more than 60.
“No question we stepped it up the past few months,” said team general manager Joe Garone. “We have a deep commitment to excel and went after and acquired some of the best and experienced talent in the NASCAR garage to go along with our already talented staff. The excitement and anticipation levels at the shop are at an all-time high.”
Regarding the team's decision to return to full-time Cup racing, Garone said, "Furniture Row Companies is a national chain with more than 330 stores in 31 states. Utilizing the NASCAR sponsorship has proven to be the most cost-effective way to advertise on a national level."
The newness of the behind the scenes Furniture Row Racing team includes a new crew chief (Ryan Coniam), new car chief (Pete Rondeau), new managing director of competition (Mark McArdle) and two new race engineers in Cole Pearn and Josh Browne.
The above talent comes to Furniture Row with an experienced NASCAR background.
Coniam was a race engineer at Michael Waltrip Racing, McArdle was an engine and technical specialist in Indy Car racing with Penske Racing and Illmor Engineering. For the past six years, he oversaw the engine program at Evernham Motorsports which eventually merged into Richard Petty Motorsports. Rondeau, a former crew chief at Dale Earnhardt Inc, was the director of research and development the past four years at Richard Petty Motorsports. Engineers Pearn and Browne also came from high-profile positions – Pearn at Richard Childress Racing and Browne at Red Bull Racing.
“I went to the shop last week and it was like I was entering it for the first time – it was just a different atmosphere,” said Smith, who begins his second season as driver for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy.
Along with the new hires, Furniture Row Racing went even a step further to enhance its program by forming a technical and engineering alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
“Being a single-car team against the mega, multicar teams has put us at a huge disadvantage over the years,” said Garone. “Now that we have formed an alliance with RCR, we will have the ability to be secured in the top 35 and keep a better pace with the other multicar teams. RCR has always been a leader and a winner, and we are proud to be affiliated with Richard Childress and his outstanding organization. ”
The RCR alliance plus the behind-the-scenes talent of new additions -- Coniam, McArdle, Rondeau, Pearn and Browne – has Smith feeling optimistic about 2010.
“The new people, the RCR alliance plus an already strong foundation bring a new spirit and it’s all great,” added Smith. “I’ve never been this pumped prior to the start of the season. And to know that we don’t have to go through the gut-wrenching qualifying process – especially at Daytona – is an incredible relief.”
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