NASCAR champion has another big decision to make

Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

For the third straight year, Martin Truex Jr. is set to enter a NASCAR Cup Series season unsure of whether he will be back afterward.

Martin Truex Jr. entering a NASCAR Cup Series season without a contract to compete beyond its conclusion is nothing new. He did it in 2022, and amid his early season struggles in the Next Gen car, there were rumors that he would decide not to return for a fifth season behind the wheel of the No. 19 Toyota in 2023.

But to the surprise of many, the 2017 champion opted to return for another year in 2023, and he entered the year in the same situation: not knowing if he would return for 2024.

After missing the playoffs in 2022 for the first time since 2014 without a single top three finish, he won three races and the regular season title, his first since 2017, in 2023. While he had said that he would like to go out on top, his step up in performance gave little reason for anybody to believe that he would call it quits.

Once again, Martin Truex Jr. is set to return for another NASCAR Cup Series season.

And once again, competing on a year-to-year deal, the 43-year-old Mayetta, New Jersey native doesn’t know if it will be his last.

Despite his uptick in performance in 2023, Truex and the No. 19 team hobbled to the finish line. Even as the regular season champion who entered the playoffs tied for the most playoff points, Truex struggled. He was eliminated in the round of 8 and only managed an 11th place finish in the point standings, well below the other three drivers who were eliminated in the round of 8.

Back-to-back finishes outside of the top 10 in the standings marked unfamiliar territory for a driver who had finished in the top two in four out of five years — and who had won at least four races in five out of six years — prior.

After entering the playoffs as the betting favorite to win the championship, he did not finish a single playoff race inside the top five.

But does Truex’s future really depend on performance?

It’s tough to say. His 2023 season was certainly better than his 2022 season, and when he made the decision to return for 2024, he looked like the championship favorite, a major contrast to when he made the decision to return for 2023. And his decision on 2024 came even later than his decision on 2023 did.

While going out on top would be nice, it’s a Catch-22 situation. Yes, you’re going out on top, but what are you leaving on the table by retiring at a point when you’re on top?

It is also worth mentioning that when he made his decision to return in 2023, one of the first things he was asked was whether or not he would return in 2024, to which he responded by referencing the fact that it had taken him six months just to make up his mind regarding 2023.

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So at this point, he probably doesn’t even know what’s in store past 2024, and like most drivers will tell you when it comes to silly season, they’re just focused on the task at hand. And for Truex, that is rebounding after a disappointing end of the 2023 season in 2024.