LOUDON, NH (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. stood with his back to a table where a few hours earlier Kevin Harvick had been armed with a colonial musket of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in honor of the driver’s last run at the track.
Harvick retired ahead of the Daytona 500 and was feted with gifts and tributes throughout his final NASCAR season.
Truex, 43, has yet to make a decision — at least publicly — whether he will return for another season at Joe Gibbs Racing or hang up the helmet and end a career that included the 2017 NASCAR championship.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and his former No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Chad Knaus crew chief headline a list of 15 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2024 .
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo will make a shock return to Formula 1 at the next Hungarian Grand Prix.
William Byron is back on top of NASCAR’s best series after his series-best fourth win of the season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver overcame a spin at the start of stage two and won in Atlanta when the race was cut short by extreme weather conditions.
Truex has already given up on retirement before he was persuaded to return for another year in the No. 19 Toyota. Truex is having fun on the track again and has two wins after missing the playoffs last season.
Truex answered the “next question” when asked about the retirement on Saturday, but conceded an announcement is due soon, possibly even this week.
Is this his timeline or JGR’s? JGR would have to make crucial decisions on driver, sponsorship and potentially a new team to set up for 2024 should Truex retire.
“Probably more their schedule than mine,” Truex said.
Truex announced last June that he would be returning for a 19th season, so talks for a potential replacement never fared away with team owner Joe Gibbs. Without a top free agent available at the end of this season, the team would likely look to Xfinity Series drivers John Hunter Nemechek or Sammy Smith to round out the four-car squad. The team promoted Ty Gibbs this season to take Kyle Busch’s place after he left to drive for Richard Childress.
Truex understood that the clock was ticking.
“I think about it a lot during the week, but not on the circuit,” Truex said. “That’s why I don’t talk about it much. I haven’t made a decision yet, so no need to talk about it.
He opened the season with a win in the Busch Light Clash exhibition and has since won at Dover and Sonoma. Truex did everything but win last season, which was his downfall. He raced in the top 10 in the standings throughout the regular season, only to miss out on a playoff spot because NASCAR had a record 19 different winners last season.
Truex is ready to end this season in contention for the Championship – and perhaps come out on top.
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RAIN RAIN GO AWAY
With heavy rain in the forecast, New Hampshire could mark the third consecutive weather-shortened race.
William Byron won last week in Atlanta in a 75 lap race. Shane van Gisbergen won his NASCAR Cup Series debut in Chicago in a race called due to fading sunlight.
“I think if we start a race in the rain, we have to have a time limit or something,” said 2014 NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick. “The rain laps are so much slower and it ends up taking all day.”
Aric Almirola won a 2021 race in New Hampshire delayed by rain and shortened by eight laps due to darkness. The idea is always to finish the race on Sunday, even if a few miles less than promised.
“I think you might have seen a bit of rain last week in the race in Atlanta where the guys were really pushing because they knew the rain was coming so they wanted to be out front so the aggression was high,” two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch said. “But other than that, the distance of the race, the length of the race, I think if you can find a happy place with a TV window, then stick with that.”
MELON SMASH, BEER BASH
Ross Chastain celebrates each victory with a watermelon smash, in tribute to his family watermelon farm in Florida. He can crush beers too, now that Busch Light will be its main sponsor from next season.
Chastain once attended beer school and learned that it’s much tastier to drink cold beer from a glass than from a can.
Anheuser-Busch and Trackhouse Racing have announced a multi-year deal that connects one of NASCAR’s four major partners with one of the Cup’s most polarizing drivers. Chastain has developed a aggressive driving style who repeatedly rubbed other drivers the wrong way.
Might be a good choice for a beer fan on race day.
Busch Light has been a NASCAR sponsor for 44 years, not only investing in race teams but also lending its name to the Busch Pole Award and the Busch Light Clash. The brand has sponsored Kevin Harvick’s #4 car at Stewart-Haas Racing since 2016.
Harvick, of course, has been featured in numerous Busch Light commercials and other commercials. Chastain said he was not yet used to the sheen of upcoming promotional appearances for him.
“It’s going to be things that I’m probably not totally comfortable with, things that I’ve never experienced before,” he said. “As long as we believe in each other, it will be a great partnership.”
Ryan Preece, from Berlin, Connecticut, grew up in New Hampshire with his father and grandfather and later found success racing modified stock cars. He is a local fan favorite and hopes to expand his reach on ” Thursday night thunder.”
Preece, who is yet to record a top-10 finish this season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, was a late addition to next week’s SRX All-Star Race in Connecticut. Preece was a regular on the track at Stafford Speedway before his NASCAR career took off and he was thrilled to compete against a roster that included Hailie Deegan, Brad Keselowski and Marco Andretti.
“It’s a great opportunity for City fans to see a City guy stand against them,” Preece said.
Kyle Larson is the betting favorite to win on Sunday, according to FanDuel Sports Betting. … 2021 Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell topped the lone practice session with a 126.416 mph lap. Martin Truex Jr. had the best 10-lap average at 125.495 mph. … Kyle Busch will start at the back of the pack after a crash in qualifying.
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