LEBANON, Tenn. — One of the biggest Silly Season dominoes has dropped.
Martin Truex Jr. will return to Joe Gibbs Racing to pilot the No. 19 Toyota in 2023, he announced Friday at Nashville Superspeedway.
Truex, the 2017 Cup Series champion, provided his decision moments after practice to end months of speculation that the longtime mainstay might potentially be hanging up the fire suit at season’s end.
“I will be back in the 19 next year,” he said succinctly, within seconds of taking 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 at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Michael Waltrip Racing and Furniture Row Racing, the last of which he earned his championship with.
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) June 24, 2022
Gibbs, himself, was a strong voice in the contract negotiations, with Truex saying he’s “pretty good (at convincing),” but that the decision ultimately was 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 just think about all this myself and figure it out. Friends and family helped as well. Just wanted to look and make sure I was doing the right thing.
“I never had my mind made up. I felt like it was an opportunity for me to look at everything. I’ve never really done that before. I’ve always just did what I was doing and I just wanted to make sure if I was going to keep going, I was going to be happy with that decision and I’ve got the opportunity to do the things on the race track that I want to do. It all feels great. I’m happy and we’ll see what we can do from here.
A Championship 4 driver in four of the previous five seasons, Truex has — by his standards — gotten off to a bit of a sputtering start in the Next Gen era, winless through 16 races while amassing an average finish that’s tied for his worst figure since missing the playoffs in 2014.
A perennial front-of-the-field driver, Truex has led double-digit laps in just four races this year with a total of just 172 on the season. At this point last year, he’d already done it seven times and paced 627 total circuits out front through 16 races.
Those numbers aren’t entirely concerning in their own right, but with a fast and furious Ty Gibbs — the team owner’s grandson — tearing it up in the Xfinity Series, the rumors grew louder and more frequent as the season carried on with no clarity on the soon-to-be 42-year-old’s future.
Internally, there didn’t appear to be any concern over whether Truex could still get the job done, however, with Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson telling NBC Sports on Thursday the manufacturer was putting forth a “truly remarkable” level of effort to retain one of its star drivers.
“We know he can get it done,” said Wilson. “I feel terrible because we haven’t given him the tools in many cases and haven’t let him exploit the handful of times he’s had a really good car.”
Truex, one of the most unshakable, even-keeled drivers of the past two decades, wasn’t worried about his performance being a negative factor on contract negotiations, either.
In fact, he feels they’re about to turn a corner.
“I don’t like not running good. I’m here to win,” Truex said. “I feel like everybody is working really, really hard right now. I’ve got an awesome team. They’ve got my back, I’ve got theirs. It’s an up-and-down sport. I’ve been a lot worse off than this before. We’re sitting in a good spot in points, just 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 has 13 Xfinity Series victories and two NXS titles in 2004 and 2005. He also claimed his lone Camping World Truck Series triumph in March 2021 in the inaugural race on Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt.
As for how long he’ll want to continue adding to his accolades, only time will tell.
“I’m sure I’ll know in six months. Big decisions are not easy,” Truex said.
“It took me six months to figure out this decision, give me six more to figure out the next one at least.”