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LEBANON, Tenn. – One of the biggest dominoes in Silly Season has fallen.
Martin Truex Jr. will return to Joe Gibbs Racing to race the No. 19 Toyota in 2023, he announced Friday at the Nashville Superspeedway.
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Truex, the 2017 Cup Series champion, gave his decision moments after practice to end months of speculation that the longtime stalwart could potentially hang up the fire suit at the end of the season.
“I’ll be back in 19 next year,” he said succinctly, seconds after answering questions, in a very Martin-Truex-Jr.-esque manner.
Truex has competed for Joe Gibbs Racing since 2019, earning 12 of his 31 career wins for the storied organization. His tenure at JGR follows stints with Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Michael Waltrip Racing and Furniture Row Racing, the last with which he won his championship.
—Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) June 24, 2022
Gibbs, himself, was a strong voice in the contract negotiations, with Truex saying he’s “good enough (at convincing)”, but the decision was ultimately a personal one with a litany of factors.
“We don’t have enough time,” Truex said, when asked to divulge some of them.
“I tried to think it all through myself and figure it out. Friends and family helped too. I just wanted to watch and make sure I was doing the right thing.
“I never had a decision. I felt like this was an opportunity for me to look at everything. I’ve never really done this before. I always did what I did and I just wanted to make sure that if I was going to continue that I was going to be happy with this decision and I have the opportunity to do things on the race track that I want to do. Everything feels good. I’m happy and we’ll see what we can do from here.
AFTER: Relive Truex’s journey to stardom | 2023 silly season roundup
A Championship 4 driver in four of the previous five seasons, Truex has – by his standards – gotten off to a somewhat hesitant start to the Next Gen era, winless in 16 races while amassing an average finish that is tied for his worst number since missing the playoffs in 2014.
A perennial top driver, Truex has led double-digit laps in just four races this year with a season total of just 172. At this point last year he had already done it seven times and had completed 627 circuits in total in 16 races.
Those numbers aren’t entirely concerning on their own, but with a fast and furious Ty Gibbs – the team owner’s grandson – tearing it up in the Xfinity Series, the rumors have gotten louder and more frequent as time goes by. as the season continued without any clarity. the future of the soon-to-be 42-year-old.
Internally, there didn’t seem to be any concerns about whether Truex could still do the job, however, Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson told NBC Sports on Thursday that the manufacturer was making a level of effort ” truly remarkable” to retain one of its star drivers.
“We know he can do it,” Wilson said. “I feel bad because we didn’t give him the tools in many cases and let him exploit the few times he had a really good car.
Truex, one of the most steadfast and level-headed drivers of the past two decades, also had no fear that his performance would be a negative factor in contract negotiations.
In fact, he senses that they are about to turn a corner.
“I don’t like to run well. I’m here to win,” Truex said. “I feel like everyone is working really, really hard right now. I have a great team. They have my back, I have theirs. It’s a top-down sport. I been a lot worse than this before. We’re sitting in a good position in terms of points, it depends on how many guys win if we can’t. I feel like we’re getting closer and we’ll keep doing all we can.
Truex also scored 13 Xfinity Series victories and two NXS titles in 2004 and 2005. He also earned his only Camping World Truck Series triumph in March 2021 at the inaugural race on Bristol Motor Speedway dirt.
As for how long he will want to keep adding to his accolades, only time will tell.
“I’m sure I’ll find out in six months. Big decisions aren’t easy,” Truex said.
“It took me six months to figure out that decision, give me six more months to at least figure out the next one.”