Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Martin Truex Jr, Walk-Off Winner?

1. If Martin Truex Jr. Comes Back in 2024, It’ll Be Hard for Him to Top this New Hampshire Triumph

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that every athlete, regardless of the sport, dreams of going out on top. Hitting the game-winning shot, scoring the deciding goal or grabbing that elusive big win in front of the home fans — those are universal dreams.

That’s even more true for anyone who’s come close to that ultimate success without quite sealing the deal. For Martin Truex Jr., it meant leading tons of laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (one of several “home” tracks for the New Jersey native, as the NBC Sports crew joked) without taking home the lobster.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud at New Hampshire: Why is Martin Truex Jr Still Thinking About Leaving?

Truex managed to put any past frustrations behind him in an emphatic fashion in the postponed-to-Monday (July 17) Crayon 301. As dominant NASCAR Cup Series wins go, this one was right up there with any in the 21st century.

Not only did Truex lead 254 of the 301 laps, but he held off anyone who looked to have the fast car of the moment all race long. Mid-race, it was Ryan Blaney. Later, it was Blaney’s teammate, Joey Logano. Multiple restarts near the end? No problem for the driver of the No. 19.

Truex made it very clear during the past week that he hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to return to the Cup Series in 2024, a stance he’s consistently repeated all summer. Since it’s hard to imagine he could have a more satisfying victory than the one he just pulled off at a track that has teased him so often over the years, one can’t help but wonder if it might sway him toward retirement knowing he can ride into the sunset this way.

2. And By the Way, Maybe He Can Win a Championship on the Way Out Too

The other significant part of Truex’s New Hampshire win is that it was his third of the season. That pulled him into a tie with Kyle Busch for most victories in 2023, behind only William Byron with four. Truex is now the regular season points leader, 17 ahead of Byron, and would be the No. 1 seed in the postseason were it to start today.

That raises the obvious question of whether Truex should now be considered the championship favorite. He ticks nearly every box; along with the aforementioned stats, he’s now second in total laps led, and his team keeps him on the track: Truex has only one DNF this season.

But most importantly, he’s been there before in a way Byron hasn’t. The last time Truex was the regular season champion (2017), he claimed the series championship as well. He’s unflappable almost to a fault, and certainly won’t seize up under the pressure of the playoffs.

Byron might not either, but we simply don’t know yet. Busch has been way too inconsistent to be in the discussion, as has Kyle Larson. No one else has more than one win yet.

So yes, Truex should be the betting favorite right this second, whatever that means in mid-July. And if he announces in the next few ways that this is his last hurrah, winning a Cup Series title as his last act would be pretty sweet.

3. Truex Probably Won’t Be Up Against Chase Elliott for the Title

As Yogi Berra might say if he was a NASCAR fan in 2023, it’s getting late early for Chase Elliott. When he was injured doing extracurricular activities back in March, two assumptions were made: one was that NASCAR would grant him a playoff waiver, which it did since it pretty much hands them out to anyone for any reason.

The other was that Elliott would figure out how to get into the playoff field, even after missing six races. He was later suspended for an additional race, but no big deal, right?

It’s not an officially big deal that NASCAR is staring down the possibility of a postseason without its most popular driver. After a 12th-place finish at New Hampshire, Elliott is dangerously close to out of the running to race his way into the field of 16 on points.

(As an aside, teammate Alex Bowman is almost at the point of no return as well.)

Elliott could still win his way in, of course, and given a whole season, it would be shocking for him not to visit victory lane at least once. Two upcoming tracks stand out as places he would normally be one of the favorites: Pocono Raceway, where he won last year, and Watkins Glen International, where he’s won twice and is in a top-five machine.

Will that actually be the case this year, though? Elliott has been … well, fine when he’s been racing, with five top fives in just 13 starts. He just doesn’t seem to be at the very top of his game and is never the driver to beat.

That will need to change and in a hurry. There are six races left in the regular season, and Elliott must win one of them or else he can essentially go snowboarding any time he wants this fall.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Is Martin Truex Jr. the New Championship Favorite?

4. Busch Light Going to Trackhouse Seems Like a Big Loss for Stewart-Haas

Though it was announced during the week, the news that Busch Light will be a multi-year primary sponsor for Ross Chastain starting next year was mentioned for the first time during a race at New Hampshire. It will be strange not seeing the beer brand on the No. 4, as it’s one of the very rare modern-day sponsors to feel somewhat synonymous with a specific car.

Or maybe that should be the driver. Busch Light’s loyalty was obviously to the retiring Kevin Harvick and not his team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

That’s a small but real distinction that could be painful for SHR as it heads into its uncertain post-Harvick future. Josh Berry already knows he’ll be the one attempting to fill Harvick’s shoes behind the wheel of the No. 4 Ford, but while Berry is a fun grassroots success story, he doesn’t feel particularly attractive to big-money sponsors as a 33-year-old rookie in 2024.

It’s very likely SHR already knew Busch Light was on its way out with Harvick before this week. That doesn’t make its departure sting any less.

5. Did Anyone Successfully Use Junior’s Excuse Note?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. certainly isn’t the first person to use this joke, but you have to admit this is pretty funny.

The fans in New Hampshire showed up in impressive numbers for the race even though it was postponed to Monday, which is never easy for people attending a NASCAR race weekend.

The real question, however, is whether anyone successfully got out of work using Junior’s note. Please let us know if you did because you deserve your moment in the sun.

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