Martin Truex Jr. is one of the top racers in the NASCAR Cup Series with 31 wins and the 2017 championship to his credit. He’s also one of the most respected in the sport, and it’s not because of his age but his style. He races clean — or as clean as you can in a discipline where contact is common, especially on shorter tracks.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver visited with the media this week in a preview of the Clash at the Coliseum and talked about the quarter-mile track and how there’s likely to be some serious beating and banging. Truex also admitted he might have to do things he wouldn’t normally do in the exhibition and violate his personal code, knowing full-well that it could upset another driver and come with consequences later in the season.
Martin Truex Jr. gets frustrated with other drivers
Since Martin Truex Jr. joined the Cup Series with a full-time ride in 2006, he’s never been known for getting into on-track altercations. That’s not to say he doesn’t get frustrated. He does.
The most recent incident happened early in the 2021 season at Homestead with teammate Denny Hamlin. Truex, who had led for much of the first stage, saw his lead slip away in the final turn and blamed Hamlin for blocking him and allowing William Byron to win the stage.
“What the f***, Denny! What the f*** kind of move was that?” an obviously angry Truex said on his radio.
“Yeah, nice teammate,” Truex’s crew chief James Small replied. Spotter Drew Herring was a little more direct in his language.
“It’s OK. Just note it,” Herring said. “We’ll know how we need to race him now.”
Martin Truex Jr. knows there’s potential for conflict at the Clash
Truex is known as a clean racer. That mindset of avoiding contact whenever possible naturally produces frustration during races when other drivers, including his teammates, don’t race him the same way. This weekend on the quarter-mile track inside the LA Coliseum, all drivers, including the 41-year-old, will have to decide just how aggressive they want to be in the exhibition race.
While visiting with reporters and promoting the upcoming race, Truex was asked if his personal code would go out the window because of racing in such close quarters.
“The closer we are, the smaller the tracks get, things like that obviously make it more difficult,” Truex said. “For me, obviously, the Coliseum, if it’s going to happen, that’s going to be the place that’s going to make it more difficult to race clean, and drive clean, and do those things.”
He admitted conflict will likely be a byproduct of the short-track racing and each driver will have to calculate just how important it is to win versus creating enemies.
“That’s the risk you take every week with the decisions you make,” he said. “It’s a long year, and you definitely don’t want to start off the year in an exhibition race with a bunch of people mad at you.”
Small tracks are fan favorites because of racing action and potential conflict
For years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has preached that NASCAR should add more short tracks to the schedule because fans enjoy the exciting racing style and the always looming potential for conflict. Last year’s events at Bristol and Martinsville, the two smallest tracks in the series, confirmed it.
The second race at Bristol produced the conflict of the year when Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick made contact late in the race, had a face-to-face confrontation on pit road immediately after it ended, and then reconvened for a heated discussion in the garage area. The feud lasted for months.
Fast forward to the second-to-last race of the season at Martinsville when Alex Bowman pursued Denny Hamlin for dozens of laps, only to tap the JGR car and move it up the track late before cruising on to victory. Hamlin confronted Bowman after the race by interrupting his burnout celebration.
Both events had fans talking about the racing action and the conflict that followed. The Clash at the Coliseum is a track that is a quarter mile shorter than those two tracks. There are going to be some hurt feelings. The question is whether Martin Truex Jr. is among them.