By DAN GELSTON
LOUDON, NH — With three wins, a points standings lead and a NASCAR championship lead, the good times return for Martin Truex Jr.
So why stop now?
Joe Gibbs had the same question about Truex as the Hall of Fame owner tries to keep Monday’s New Hampshire winner in the fold of his eponymous racing team for one more season.
Gibbs, 82, playfully pushed Truex to make the call soon: Retire or give him another shot at JGR.
“He tells me the same thing every year that I’m trying to make that decision,” Gibbs said. “I go, come on, what are you talking about, man? You make money, you have fun, you drive race cars. Come on.”
If Gibbs can’t get an easy answer yet, maybe he should consult Truex’s father.
The retired racer, who won a regional stock car race in New Hampshire 29 years earlier, thought a big bounce-back season for his son could fuel the resolve to get back in the No. 19 Toyota in 2024.
“The way they work, I’d be surprised if he retired,” the elder Truex said Tuesday by phone. “But it depends on him.”
The JGR driver has publicly considered retiring for a second straight season. Truex quelled season-long speculation last June that he could retire at the end of 2022 with a succinct statement: “I’m back.”
Last year, the possibility of retirement seemed a little more understandable. Truex, 43, struggled in the first season of NASCAR’s new Next Gen stock car. He failed to win a race or make the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when he drove for the now defunct Furniture Row Racing, the organization where he would soon experience a career renaissance and win the 2017 championship.
Once FRR left, Truex moved to Gibbs and won seven races in his first season. He is a three-time championship runner-up since joining Gibbs and has won 19 races since joining the organization, including his first in 30 tries at New Hampshire.
Truex insisted he was honestly in conflict with the outcome.
“I’m bad at making big decisions,” he said.
Truex has figured out the car and the results show he is in tune with team manager James Small. Truex has won three of the last 10 Cup races – oddly Dover and New Hampshire were on Monday – and has four other top 10 finishes in that span.
“I think it’s just learning these new cars,” said Truex Sr. “It’s a whole new different package. It takes a bit of time, especially without practice. .”
And he’s his son right now.
“They’re onto something,” Truex Sr said.
Truex, who is 0 for 19 in the Daytona 500, earned two of his most significant career wins this season.
The first arrived in May in Dover as part of a family sweep on the track. Younger brother Ryan won the second-tier Xfinity Series race for his first NASCAR win in all three National Series in 188 career starts. Big Brother was the first to put their head in Ryan’s Toyota as he pulled it towards victory lane. Dad was there to celebrate with the two sons.
“It was awesome. Like a dream come true,” said Truex Sr.
Then came New Hampshire. The eldest Truex, who raised his family in Mayetta, New Jersey, still owns Maryland-based clam supplier Sea Watch International. He had enough free weekends to race stock cars, mostly in the northeast. He even made 15 starts in what is now the Xfinity Series.
It was those family trips to the track — Ryan tweeted an old photo of him, Martin and their mom on the track — that helped form Truex’s earliest racing memories. It also helped Truex get hooked on running – and dad could tell he was a prodigy.
“I found out when he was 12 doing go-karting,” Truex said. “He was above his class. He was good at it.”
Truex Sr. won the 1994 Auto Palace/Slick 50 150 in the Busch North Series in July 1994 at Loudon. (Naturally, his sponsor was Blount Seafood). Ryan Truex also won at Loudon, taking the checkered flag in 2010 in a K&N Pro Series East race. Martin had just turned 20 when he won a regional stock car series race at the track in the same race his father finished fifth.
His father then quickly withdrew.
“He’s like, ‘You’re too good. I gotta give you my cars, the best gear I’ve got and put everything behind you,'” Truex Jr said. “I’m like, why are you doing this? (He said) ‘You can win here and keep going.'”
Truex hasn’t stopped yet.
But the moment to hang up the helmet arrives.
Truex said he was about to buy a saltwater fishing boat so he could spend his free days on the water in search of tuna. It sounded like the perfect retirement gift for himself. Dad said don’t worry, if Truex wants to keep racing and keep fishing, the family has a Viking 56 Convertible at their disposal.
Truex laughed as he said his family “screwed up” for not attending Monday’s win. It’s OK. Truex Sr. said the family has already booked their trip to the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Phoenix because he thinks Truex will run for the championship?
“Absolutely,” said the elder Truex.
But will Phoenix also serve as the last time Truex straps in and drives the Toyota?
“I wish I had more time to figure out what I want to do next year, but I’m not doing it,” he said. “Then I will know soon and you will soon know.”