Martin Truex Jr. was a victim of the historic number of different winners in the NASCAR Cup Series this season that caused him to miss the playoffs for the first time in eight years, yet a return to the postseason in 2023 is far from a guarantee, as well.
Truex has been one of the sport’s top drivers since he won his Cup Series championship in 2017. The two-time Xfinity Series champ from 2004-05 took the No. 78 car of Furniture Row Racing to the pinnacle of the sport at age 37 with a career- and series-high eight wins, including the title-sealing triumph in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Martin Truex Jr. has been a consistent Cup Series title contender since 2017
He followed his championship season with back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2018-19, although he drove for two different organizations. Furniture Row Racing closed after the 2018 campaign, so Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn moved to Joe Gibbs Racing to take over the No. 19 car for 2019.
They did not miss a step in the transition. Truex won a series-high seven races and finished second behind Kyle Busch in the final championship race at Homestead. It also turned out to be Pearn’s last race, as he stepped down from his position at the end of the season.
Truex missed the Championship 4 in the COVID-19 pandemic-riddled season of 2020. He won only a single race and finished seventh in the standings with James Small as his crew chief. However, the pair rebounded with four wins in 2021, and Truex finished second in the championship-deciding race, which shifted to Phoenix Raceway beginning in 2020, for the third time in four years.
Truex had many good runs in 2022, but lack of a win kept him out of playoffs
Truex and the No. 19 were as steady as any team in the series, and the early portion of the 2022 season showed no change. Truex was third in the points standings through the first seven races of the season and as high as fourth with only two races left in the regular season.
The problem was his lack of a win. He had come close several times, including leading 80-or-more laps in the April race at Richmond Raceway and the June event at Nashville Superspeedway.
Perhaps his best chance at a victory came in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he won his only pole award for the season and dominated the first two-thirds of the event. Truex swept the first two stages and led 172 of the first 209 laps before he ultimately finished fourth as teammate Christopher Bell scored the victory that sealed his own playoff berth.
Truex won seven stages throughout the season, tied for eventual-champion Joey Logano for the second most in the series behind only Ryan Blaney’s nine.
Truex just could not close out a race and missed the 16-driver playoff field by three points. He easily captured the consolation prize of the highest-finishing, non-playoff driver with more than a 200-point margin over Erik Jones for 17th.
Does he have another win in his Cup Series future?
The growing question now for Truex at age 42 is whether he will ever get back to Victory Lane or if his trophy from his September 2021 win at Richmond will be the last one he brings home.
He is solidly in the age range where several prominent drivers stopped winning late in their careers. Jimmie Johnson won his last race at age 41 (assuming he doesn’t win in his part-time return in 2023), Jeff Gordon captured his last victory at age 43, and Tony Stewart won only one race after he turned 42.
Similar doubts followed Kevin Harvick after he went winless in 2021 at age 45 in a season that followed a stretch when he, too, made the Championship 4 three times in a four-year period. Harvick was in a similar position to Truex late in the regular season, but Harvick then ripped off victories in consecutive weeks to begin August at Michigan International Speedway and Richmond.
The new Next Gen car model NASCAR introduced for the 2022 season could have been an excuse for why Truex didn’t win throughout the 36-race campaign, but he still ran well. He was sixth in the traditional points standings as the series headed into the regular-season final in August at Daytona International Speedway.
He simply did not happen to be at the front of the field when it mattered most and broke a seven-year streak in which he had won at least one race that dated back to 2014 in his first year with Furniture Row Racing before he and Pearn paired up and took the moribund team from 24th in 2014 to the Championship 4 the following year.
Truex will likely still be a contender in 2023 after he had considered retirement early in the 2022 season, but he has reached an age where it is far from certain that he will ever drive the No. 19 car to Victory Lane again.
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