Martin Truex Jr. Has a Strong Chance to Accomplish the Feat Joey Logano Did a Season Ago
But the veteran did set the tone to potentially follow Joey Logano’s path to the Cup Series championship in what could be his final season.
Joey Logano won both the Clash and the Cup Series championship in 2022
Joey Logano took the checkered flag a year ago at the Coliseum in the maiden voyage for both the event and the Next Gen car model that NASCAR introduced for the 2022 season. He led the final 35 laps and held off Kyle Busch for the victory to kick off what turned out to be his second championship-winning season.
Logano’s championship chances did not increase specifically because of his Clash victory. It is an exhibition race that does not count toward the points standings, but it still showed that Logano could run well, specifically at flat, short tracks such as the 0.25-mile oval inside the Coliseum.
He ran second in April at Martinsville Speedway, a flat 0.5-mile track. He won at the flat, 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis and ran sixth in the fall race at the flat, 0.75-mile Richmond Raceway. He also finished sixth in the fall race at Martinsville and won the season finale at the flat, 1.0-mile oval of Phoenix Raceway to clinch his second career championship.
While the Clash did not directly enhance Logano’s championship efforts, it did show that his No. 22 Team Penske crew had a setup that would work at similar tracks. Those correct short-track setups ended up greatly helping him win the title.
Martin Truex Jr. went winless and missed the NASCAR Playoffs last season
Truex could be in a similar position this season. The 42-year-old driver of the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing went winless last year for the first time since 2014, which was also the last time he failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Truex, who has the 2017 Cup Series championship on his resume, still ran well consistently. He led 572 laps and finished on the lead lap in more races than any season since 2018. A burst of new winners throughout the regular season killed his playoff chances, however. A record number of different winners in the regular season filled all but one of the 16 playoff spots and left Truex on the outside of the playoff bubble.
He also had some of his best runs on the flat, short tracks in 2022. He led 80 laps and finished fourth in the April race at Richmond. He won the pole award and led a race-high 172 laps in July at the 1.0-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway before finishing fourth, and he ran seventh in the August race at Richmond.
But his first experience at the Coliseum was horrid, and he was not a factor in either race at Phoenix. Truex started last of the 23 cars in the 2022 main event and got that spot only because of a provisional as the highest driver from the 2021 standings who had not already raced his way into the feature.
He finished the 150-lap event one lap down in 15th.
“Honestly, we were probably the worst car here last year, literally, besides maybe the guys that didn’t have charters,” Truex said in his post-race press conference. “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.”
Truex and the No. 19 team showed up fully prepared for the Clash this year
The No. 19 team returned with a much better handle on the Next Gen car. Truex turned the fastest lap in practice and then won his heat race over Kyle Busch. That victory gave him the No. 2 starting spot for the main event, and he stayed near the front of the field throughout the race before taking the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go.
Truex never relinquished the lead despite having to hold off challengers on two restarts in a race that featured 16 caution flags. He is now the only driver in position to do what Logano did a year ago and bookend the season with wins in both the Clash and the championship race.
A title for Truex this season could be all the more special because it might be his last as a full-time driver. Truex considered retirement a year ago but ultimately decided to return for the 2023 season. He has not yet made a determination about his future beyond this year.
Now that he has the burden of a losing streak off his shoulders, Truex and the No. 19 team have momentum that could help him create the best farewell season possible and send him into retirement as a two-time Cup Series champion.