Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. drives the Furniture Row Chevrolet during a March 14 practice run at Bristol Motor Speedway. Crashes and on-track mishaps are especially tolling for one-car teams trying to compete in NASCAR's top category. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images / March 14, 2014)

The season-opening Daytona 500 was less than an hour old when Barney Visser saw his latest $1-million NASCAR investment literally go up in smoke.

Visser owns Furniture Row Racing, which fields one car — the black No. 78 Chevrolet — driven by Martin Truex Jr. in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.

After weeks of preparation for the Daytona 500 and then being forced to use a backup car because of a crash in qualifying, the team saw the engine on Truex's car blow up only 31 laps into NASCAR's crown-jewel event last month.

"When you're the first car out [of the race], it knocks the wind out of your sails a little bit, especially when you spend like $1 million or $1 million-plus out of your pocket to get there," said Todd Berrier, the team's crew chief.

But that's the cost of being a player in big league stock car racing. And as the series holds its fifth race of the season Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Visser is happy to keep signing the checks.

The team gets its name from the chain of Furniture Row centers that Visser owns, including 330 furnishing and bedding stores in 31 states.

The chain was built by the 64-year-old Visser, a Vietnam veteran, college dropout and father of seven whose net worth is thought to be at least a few hundred million dollars, and who first fell in love with motor racing 20 years ago.

Visser is a reserved, laconic owner, but the aim behind his NASCAR effort is clear: Besides satisfying his love of racing, FRR is a major advertising channel for Visser's stores.

"It's a marketing effort for us," Visser said.

It's also now the best one-car team in the Cup series, for which the most successful teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing have three or four cars in their stables.

FRR last year earned a berth in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup title playoff with former champion Kurt Busch at the wheel. It was the first one-car team to do so, and Busch ultimately finished 10th in the standings.

"They're doing a really good job," said Chip Ganassi, a longtime racing owner with a two-car Cup team. "Being a one-car team and what they've accomplished is nothing short of incredible."

But Busch then left to become the fourth driver at the Stewart-Haas Racing team, after Visser said he wouldn't get into a bidding war to keep Busch's services.

So Visser signed Truex, 33, who has two wins in his eight full years in the Cup series. Now the question is whether Truex and the team can do as well this year as Busch did.

Despite making last year's Chase, FRR has only one win in its Cup series history: at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in 2011, when its driver was Regan Smith.

Even so, "We expect [Truex] to make the Chase and expect him to win races," team General Manager Joe Garone said. "We fully expect to do better [than last year]."

But FRR is off to a lousy start. After the engine failure in Daytona, Truex finished 22nd in Phoenix, 14th in Las Vegas and 36th a week ago in Bristol, Tenn., where his car suffered mechanical woes and brushed the wall after contact with another car.

Truex qualified 12th for Sunday's Fontana race. But in practice Saturday, a blown tire again sent his Chevy into the wall and forced the team to pull out another backup car. Under NASCAR rules, that means Truex must start at the rear of the 43-car field Sunday.

"This is definitely not what we needed," Truex said.

The team is unique for several reasons. Nearly all NASCAR teams are headquartered in the Charlotte, N.C., area, but FRR's 35,000-square-foot race shop and its 64 employees are in Denver, where Visser's furniture business is based.