Martin Truex Jr. Enduring Worst Stretch of Career Since 2009 and Exposing What’s Wrong With NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs
Martin Truex Jr. finished 20th on Sunday at the Charlotte Roval and is currently enduring the worst stretch of his career since 2009. Despite that lackluster performance, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver advanced to the Round of 8 in the Cup Series playoffs and exposed what’s wrong with the system in the process.
Martin Truex Jr. has struggled since August
Starting the 2023 playoffs, many experts believed that Martin Truex Jr. was a favorite for the championship, coming into the postseason as the regular season champion on a run of six top 10s in seven races, three of those top fives, including a win at New Hampshire.
It was easy to dismiss the No. 19’s 24th-place finish at Daytona to close out the regular season because it was a superspeedway race and he has notoriously struggled on those types of tracks. Unfortunately, that result was a precursor of things to come.
Over the next six playoff races, Truex hasn’t scored a single top-15 finish. His best result in that time was a 17th at Texas.
What’s remarkable about this seven-week stretch of races is it is the worst in the 2017 champion’s career without any top-15 results since 2009. In that year with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Truex went 19 races in the middle of the season without finishing inside the top 15.
The next closest period came in 2014 when he started the season slowly with eight lackluster finishes, but did manage a 14th-place finish in the third race of the season at Las Vegas.
Truex poor performance exposes problem with NASCAR playoffs
What’s more problematic than Truex’s issues late in the 2023 campaign is how they have exposed NASCAR’s playoff format. Despite his poor performances, he has advanced to the Round of 8 and sits second in points behind William Byron to start the semifinal round.
It’s the result of the 43-year-old winning the regular-season title, which earned him a critical 15 playoff points heading into the postseason. He has been the beneficiary of the system and the points resetting after each round.
On Sunday, after the Roval, the 43-year-old addressed his situation.
“I didn’t create the system. We used it to our advantage,” he admitted.
He has used it to his advantage and has shown how the system is broken in the process. His defenders have correctly suggested that he’s being rewarded for his regular-season performance.
But the question is — how long should the reward last?
When comparing to stick-and-ball sports and their playoff scenarios, the best teams are also rewarded for their regular seasons, and that comes in the form of a high seeding and, in many cases, receiving a bye. Receiving a bye is out of the question for NASCAR because all drivers have to compete in each race.
However, when the first round of the playoffs or the wild card is complete in those sports, there is no additional reward for performing poorly. If you lose, which is effectively how Truex has performed as of late, then you’re out and don’t get to advance. Your season is over.
The NASCAR playoffs are a good thing. There’s plenty of pressure and drama that keeps it entertaining. The Roval proved that as there were multiple teams sweating it out and counting points in the final laps.
But the points system needs to be addressed so that mediocrity isn’t rewarded. Fans recognize this. Truex does as well. It’s time for the sanctioning body to make changes to the format and reward the drivers for their performance both in the regular season and the playoffs. And that will result in a champion that everyone will agree earned it.