Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: A Final Run from Martin Truex Jr.?

Twenty years ago, Martin Truex Jr. made his first start in NASCAR’s top division.

Known primarily at that time as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s protégé, many observers wondered if they were watching a future champion begin his NASCAR Cup Series career. Truex, of course, lived up to the promise he showed. Yet few could have predicted the twists and turns his career would take on the way to his current totals of one championship and 34 wins.

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Now, as one of the elder statesmen of the Cup Series, the real questions are about how much longer Truex will be behind the wheel?

He is in the last year of his current contract with Joe Gibbs Racing and turns 44 this summer. Additionally, life beyond racing has clearly been on Truex’s mind in recent years. Rumors of his impending retirement first picked up in 2022, particularly after he shockingly missed the playoffs. The No. 19 team had been solidly top 10 in points all year, but a lack of wins prevented Truex from securing a spot in the postseason. The disappointing end to 2022 and Truex’s obvious discontent ignited speculation that 2023 could be his final season.

Once last season got underway, it became clearer that nobody within JGR or Toyota was ready to see Truex go. He snapped his winless streak with a victory at Dover Motor Speedway. After another win at Sonoma Raceway, Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson spoke openly about trying to keep Truex in the No. 19. There was work to be done, Wilson explained, because the contract that Truex signed in 2022 was only for one additional season.

Truex himself remained noncommittal, even after winning a third race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. By this time, he had taken the overall points lead and looked like one of the championship favorites.

Whatever funk the No. 19 was caught up in during 2022 felt like a distant memory. But Truex continued to ponder his options, even going so far as to say that his success in 2023 was not making a big difference in his decision. It was not until the first week of August that he announced his return for 2024.

Truex said at that time that returning felt like the right thing to do, but his contract was once again only for one additional season and he acknowledged that he was going on year-by-year deals.

Having settled on a plan for 2024, it appeared that Truex was geared up for a championship run. But as soon as the postseason began, the No. 19 team faltered. Truex’s speed suddenly disappeared, and his playoff points were the only thing keeping him afloat through the first two rounds.

An engine failure at Homestead-Miami Speedway during the Round of 8 put him on the ropes, and he was eliminated one week later at Martinsville Speedway. It was jarring to see Truex run so poorly during the postseason after seeing how well he ran during the summer.

So far this season, Truex has been efficient above all else. He avoided serious trouble during the first two races and scored his first top 10 of the year in the third. At Phoenix Raceway this past weekend, Truex took a gamble by not pitting during the lap 216 caution, allowing him to take the lead.

He held the top spot for the next 55 laps, but without a late-race yellow he was forced to pit under green with 41 laps to go and surrendered any chance at victory.

The pit stop gave Truex the freshest tires in the field and he drove back to seventh by the time the checkered flag dropped. It was a great rebound after the team’s initial strategy didn’t work out.  

Truex leaves Phoenix tied for second in overall points. For the moment, it looks like the No. 19 team is back on the upswing. But as another season gets underway, Truex’s future is cloudier than ever. He has not signed another contract that would keep him with JGR, nor has he announced that 2024 will be his final season. This year is setting up to mirror last year when Truex decided about his future mid-season. Could this season be the one where he chooses to walk away?

From JGR’s standpoint, it would be a good idea to keep Truex around, even if it is for another one-year deal. There is no obvious replacement ready from Gibbs’ NASCAR Xfinity Series squad. Outside the organization, most drivers would jump at the chance to race for JGR, but if Truex is still competitive why not try to hang onto him as Wilson and Toyota did last year?

There is also the consideration of Bass Pro Shops, Truex’s primary and longtime sponsor. BPS has had an enormous presence in NASCAR for years. It likely wouldn’t leave the sport completely if Truex retired, but it likely would not stick around as the biggest funder of the No. 19 team. Keeping Truex and BPS on the team is in JGR’s best interest, even if it is a short-term solution.

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However, if Truex cannot be swayed to come back for 2025, that is when things would get really interesting.

JGR could try to get a replacement from one of the other Toyota teams (think Tyler Reddick from 23XI Racing or John Hunter Nemechek from Legacy Motor Club). Perhaps the team could try to coax Erik Jones back after releasing him four years ago. Maybe JGR snatches a driver from Chevrolet’s or Ford’s development pipeline or simply goes after the driver who writes the biggest check. There are plenty of options, but no clear path forward.

As for Truex, a hypothetical mid-season retirement announcement would make his departure feel quite sudden.

For all the struggles he has faced and all the success he has earned in his career, he deserves a proper sendoff. But Truex may decide that the most important thing is to be confident in his decision and go out on his own terms, no matter when or how he leaves the driver’s seat. Either way, it will be worth waiting to see if Truex’s NASCAR career takes one last unexpected twist.

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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