Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: If Martin Truex Jr. Walks Away, He’s Already Come Full Circle

Martin Truex Jr. got the win he’s been waiting his whole career for on Monday (July 17), when he won the Crayon 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in dominating fashion, leading 254 of 301 laps.

Truex’s childhood racing memories revolve around watching his father race at the flat one-mile oval nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It’s the track where he watched his father win, Martin Truex’s lone NASCAR-sanctioned victory in a then-Busch North Series event stacked with talent including Cup drivers Ken Schrader and Jimmy Spencer and NASCAR Hall of Famer Mike Stefanik. It was a good day.

It’s the track where he first saw Dale Earnhardt in person, working on his own car when the Busch and Busch North Series were running a combined event. If the drivers in that old Busch North Series were his heroes, Earnhardt was the one he looked up to at NASCAR’s highest echelon. 

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It’s the track where Martin Jr. realized that he could win, taking the pole and leading every lap in a 100-mile Busch North race in 2000. The fans in the stands stopped looking at him as “Martin’s kid” that day and saw a talented driver in his own right.

It was the track where Martin Truex Sr. saw how far his son could go and sacrificed his own career to see that Martin Jr. got the best equipment he could build. Equipment that could get him noticed.

Now, 23 years down the road, will it be the track that lets Truex Jr. go, allowing him to freely make the decision every driver dreads and complete a career full circle?

Truex has hinted in recent weeks that he’s weighing that decision heavily. The R-word. 

It’s a decision he knows he needs to make soon. Team owner Joe Gibbs said as much, even as he celebrated Truex’s victory on Monday. Sponsors need to know. The team has decisions to make.

It’s not that simple for the driver though. He’s still winning: three times this year, an early title favorite. In those winning moments, it’s easy for a driver to forget the years and the grind. It’s easy to feel immortal, invincible.

But that grind isn’t easy. The Cup schedule is long and demanding. The lone off week is past. It’s a great job, but the sacrifices add up: the moments missed with family and friends, the time that’s your own, the chance to shed the corporate skin and be yourself. 

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Truex is a bit of a throwback, a driver who came into his own later in his career — working through the ranks first with his family-owned team and later with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chance 2 Motorsports. He made his full-time Cup debut in 2004, the year he turned 26 years old. In his first 10 years, he won twice but earned the reputation as a hard-nosed, blue-collar racer who would get the most out of his equipment. 

It wasn’t until he joined the independent Furniture Row Racing team that his career took off. In 2015, the year he turned 35 years old, he won his third career Cup race. The next year, he won four times. The year after that, he won eight races and the Cup title. Since then, he’s won at least once every year except 2022. After winning three races in his first 10 years, he’s won 31 times in the last eight.

At age 43, Martin’s kid is a future Hall of Famer.

But Monday? Monday he was that 20-year-old kid getting his first win. He did a massive burnout on the frontstretch and playfully bit a live lobster. 

Except … he came back to earth. After celebrating his win, it became clear that The Decision is weighing on Truex. 

Truth be told, he sounded like it’s already been made.

When asked about whether he’ll race another year, Truex said, “This sport isn’t exactly what it appears to be sometimes. It takes a big commitment.

“My team is amazing. They deserve the very best driver, the guy that wants it more than anyone else, and I’ve been that guy. I want to make sure that if I come back, I’m willing to do that. It takes a lot. It’s not just show up at the track, drive the car, go home. It takes a lot. It takes a lot of commitment. It’s a lot of travel. A lot of time missing things with family and friends and all those things that I’ve done for 25 years. Do I want to keep doing it, and am I willing to sacrifice all those things again for my team?

“So that’s just what I’m thinking about. I don’t know that running good and winning makes a difference. It would be pretty awesome to win the championship and walk off into the sunset.

“I just don’t really know. I don’t really know. I’m bad at making big decisions. I told somebody out there, I was like, I’ve been looking at salt water boats for five, six years. Love to fish, spend a lot of time on the water, and I haven’t pulled the trigger on a boat because I just can’t make up my mind on what I want. I’m just bad at big decisions. I finally am about to buy one maybe this week. I wish I had more time to figure out what I want to do next year, but I don’t, so I’ll know soon and you’ll know soon.”

Buying a boat isn’t necessarily reserved for retirement. But Truex sounded less like a man weighing a decision than one who knows what the decision is and doesn’t want to say it out loud yet.

Saying it out loud makes it real.

Truex isn’t the type of driver to make a farewell tour. He didn’t burst onto the Cup landscape with a multi-win rookie season. He didn’t even establish himself as a star until he was at an age where most drivers’ numbers start to decline. He has been a quiet champion, even-keeled, able to take the massive pressure of NASCAR’s stage. He ran much of his career in the shadows of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick, only to emerge from them a champion with a Hall-worthy record of his own.

He doesn’t have a Daytona 500 win. He hasn’t won at Bristol Motor Speedway or Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has won two Coca-Cola 600s (leading a record-breaking 392 of 400 laps in 2016) and the Southern 500. And he’s won at Loudon.

If he does walk away in November, his dominant Cup victory at the track where he first dominated against his childhood heroes is a fitting way to bookend a career. The little boy from a family of fishermen who liked to race has come full circle: a racer who likes to fish sometimes.

The sun is low in the sky, and the sea beckons. But first, there’s a title to be won.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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It’s sounding a lot like the decision has already been made.

There’s a lot of difference between being a NASCAR Champion & being a two-time Champion.
He was one pit stop away from being a two-time Champion, when Larson’s pit crew pulled off the stop of the season. Allowing Larson to get out ahead of Martin.
That still has to hurt, & it’s sounding like if he were to be able to beat the Hendrick juggernaut & win his second Championship. Then he could most likely walk away & not look back.

Failing that I’m betting he sticks around for another bite of the apple.

Either way, I wish him well.

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