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Martin Truex Jr. recently made headlines when he announced in an Instagram story that he and his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, had decided to end their relationship

The news came as a shock to the NASCAR world since the two had been a couple since 2005, were often seen together at the track, and had worked hand-in-hand on various charitable initiatives focused on helping women and children battling cancer.

Although life is undoubtedly different for Truex now that he’s no longer with his partner of nearly 18 years, the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is different for another reason — that appears poised to have a huge impact on his racing endeavors in 2023.

Martin Truex Jr.’s rough 2022 has him hungry for much better this year

To say Martin Truex Jr.’s 2022 season was a disappointment would be an understatement. The veteran driver endured one of the hardest years of his Cup Series career, at least in terms of on-track performance.

A perennial playoff qualifier, Truex missed the 16-driver playoff field for the first time since 2014. The biggest reason? He likewise failed to win a race for the first time since 2014, thereby failing to punch an automatic ticket into the playoffs.

The 2017 Cup Series champion finished 17th in the standings after recording 15 top-10 finishes and just four top-fives, leading some observers to question whether an off-season crew chief change might even be in order.

But team owner Joe Gibbs stuck with James Small, Truex’s pit boss since 2020, in hopes the two would be able to enjoy a turnaround in 2023 — a year that could be Truex’s last as a Cup driver since he’s been non-committal about his plans for 2024 and beyond.

While it remains to be seen whether the decision to keep the Truex-Small pairing intact will ultimately bear major fruit, Truex started has started 2023 with a bang.

Martin Truex Jr. had the car and the attitude necessary to win The Clash

Unlike last year’s inaugural Clash at The Coliseum, where Martin Truex Jr. ran extremely poorly, Sunday night’s exhibition race at the makeshift Los Angeles quarter mile was pretty much a joy ride for the New Jersey native and his team.

After qualifying second, Truex spent most of the 150-lapper near the front and eventually seized the lead with 25 laps to go. Once atop the leaderboard, he refused to be denied and took the checkered flag .786 seconds ahead of second-place Austin Dillon.

On a night when many drivers left the track with beat-up race cars, bruised egos, and bad attitudes, Truex was nothing but a paragon of positivity while discussing his evening during post-race interviews.

“It’s huge,” Truex said during the recorded post-race winner’s press conference. “It’s a huge confidence booster. Just reminds you that you’re doing the right stuff. Honestly, we were probably the worst car here last year, literally, besides maybe the guys that didn’t have charters. We were just God-awful. We barely made the race. Rode around the back, and I spun out by myself on the last lap. It was so bad, you know, trying to pass one car. …

“I knew [this year that] if we could just be smart tonight and stay up front all night, we’d have a shot at it. But it’s a big deal. Any of these races are hard to win. All of them are hard to win. Doesn’t matter if there’s points (involved) or not. We’re proud of this one. It’s a big deal.”

While Truex certainly benefited from having a car capable of winning, which was often not the case in 2022, his desire to atone for last year’s shortcomings might’ve played an even bigger role in the outcome.

When a reporter pointed out to Truex after the race that his crew chief said he’d seen a difference in him this year versus last, Truex offered a one-word explanation: “Mad.” Then he elaborated.

“I’m just determined,” Truex said. “Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year. If you look at all the statistics, we had a decent year. We were consistent. We scored a lot of points. We struggled on short tracks and road courses, which ultimately is what kept us out of the playoffs. … 

“Just wanting to go out and show them what we can do. We’ve been very fired up this off-season, working very hard, all of us. It’s just nice when it all works out, and you can come to the track and things go the way you hope they will.”

All signs suggest more good days are on the horizon for Martin Truex Jr.

The chip that Martin Truex Jr. is carrying on his shoulder hasn’t been lost on crew chief James Small, who obviously had a front-row seat to his driver’s bumpy 2022 — when it seemed like there were times he preferred to be almost anywhere besides the race track.

“We know what we’re capable of, and Martin is a different person right now, and he’s super-motivated, and we’re all behind him,” Small said during the winning crew chief’s post-race press conference at the LA Coliseum. “We knew we could do this, and we just needed to hit it right.

“I think we learned a lot last year. We had races where we had a lot of speed, and things didn’t go right, but we also had races where we made poor decisions, and I think we learned a lot. You saw today that when we get it right, this is what we’re capable of.”

And Truex, despite being one of the Cup Series’ oldest full-time drivers at age 42, certainly hasn’t forgotten how to drive a race car. As recent as the 2021 season, he won four races, made the Championship 4, and finished second in the standings.

Will the 2023 season bring about a resurrection of Truex’s familiar front-running form? It’s too early to know based on a single exhibition race, of course, but this much is certain: He couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.


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