By David Morgan, Associate Editor
LEBANON, Tenn. – Will he stay or will he go? That has been the question of late for Martin Truex Jr’s tenure in the NASCAR Cup Series.
After being noncommittal on his future behind the wheel of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the 2017 series champion announced his decision Friday at Nashville Superspeedway with three simple words.
“I’ll be back.”
Truex explained that over the course of the past six months, he had taken a lot of time to look back over his career and look toward the future to figure out whether being a part of NASCAR’s top division was where he really wanted to be. Ultimately, it his competitive side won out and he made the choice to give it another go, at least for another year.
“I never had my mind set up,” Truex said. “I just hadn’t. I felt like it was an opportunity for me to look at everything. I’ve never really done that before. I’ve always just, just did what I was doing. And I just wanted to make sure if I did, you know, if I keep going that I’m gonna be happy with that decision. And I’ve got the opportunity to do the things on the racetrack that I want to do. It all feels great. I’m happy. We’ll see what we can do from here.”
Just shy of his 42nd birthday, Truex added that taking the extra time he needed to reflect on the decision opened his eyes to what his life would look like without being a full-time Cup driver and helped sway him to stay for what will be his 18th full-time season in the series.
“At the end of the day, it’s really all about if I want to keep going and doing what I’ve been doing. You know, will I be happy in a year? Is it what I really, really want to do? And at the end of the day, this is what I really want to do right now.
“I just felt like I wanted to take the opportunity to explore my options and what it would look like either direction. If I went and did something else or, you know, didn’t race Cup full-time. Basically, what my life would look like and things would look like. I mean, there were some things in there that were surprising, some things that weren’t surprising. Just, you know, something, like I said, I’ve never done that before. I’ve never even thought about it until this year. You know what I mean? So, it’s cool to do that.”
Truex added that while his team has yet to win a race thus far in 2022, he is confident they are on the cusp of being able to turn the corner and make a return to Victory Lane.
Through the first 16 races of the season, Truex has two top-five finishes and seven top-10 finishes, currently sitting sixth in points with 10 races remaining in the regular season.
“I don’t like not running good,” Truex said. “I mean, I’m here to win, so I feel like we’re gonna, you know, everybody’s working really, really hard right now. I’ve got an awesome team. They got my back, I got theirs and we’re just, you know, it’s an up and down sport. I’ve been a lot worse off than this before, so we’re sitting in a good spot in points, just depends on how many guys win if we can’t, but I feel like we we’re getting closer and we’ll keep doing all we can.”
In addition to his competitive nature spurring him on to make a return to the driver’s seat in 2023, Truex explained that the opportunity to stay in the trenches with his team was another big factor in him making the decision he did.
“They were happier than I expected them to be,” Truex said of breaking the news to his team. “I’ll say that. I just didn’t realize, you know what it meant to them for us all work to together. The bond that we’ve completely developed and the friendship. They’re a great bunch. They work really, really hard for me and I always try to thank them, but you never know. It was kind of pretty neat to be part of that.
“I love the camaraderie of the team and working together. Everybody fighting for common goal and to go out there and try to beat the best in the world on the racetrack. I love that part. The question is always the 38-weekend grind and all the travel and all the things that you sacrifice to be able to keep doing that. Is that worth what you get in return? And for right now, it still is. That’s my best answer.
“I want to be here and I’m still happy here. I love my team and, you know, they were a big difference maker for me. Working with those guys and seeing their passion and knowing what I know we can do together. We’re not doing that right now, but it’s there. I know it. And we’re gonna keep fighting until we find it.
Last, but not least, was the chance for Truex to make another run at the title, after finishing second in the championship in three of the four years after hoisting the trophy in 2017.
“Those were definitely heartbreakers and you know, you always look back at those,” Truex said. “Really, really tough to swallow, but also, they’re really, really good seasons. It’s hard to say that was terrible and I would never want to be in that position again. Right? If you can’t finish first, you want to finish second.
“I think this day and age, it’s hard to get in that position. It’s hard to make the final four. It’s hard to make it to that. I’d love to get another opportunity. I feel like the chances of that are still there and if they weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t race for anything less than putting myself out there and doing the best we can do and feel like we can still do it.”