LOUDON, N.H. – With three wins, a lead in the points standings, and a NASCAR championship push ahead, the good times are rolling again for Martin Truex Jr.
So why quit now?
Joe Gibbs asked himself the same question about Truex as the Hall of Fame owner tries to keep Monday’s winner at New Hampshire in the fold of his eponymous race team for one more season.
The 82-year-old Gibbs playfully nudged Truex to make the call soon: Retire or give it another run at JGR.
“He tells me the same thing every year, that I’m right in the middle of trying to make this decision,” Gibbs said. “I go, come on, what are you talking about, man? You’re making money, you’re having fun, you’re driving race cars. Come on.”
If Gibbs can’t get an easy answer yet, maybe he should consult Truex’s dad.
The retired racer, who won a regional stock car race at New Hampshire 29 years earlier, believed a big rebound season for his son may fuel the resolve to return in the No. 19 Toyota in 2024.
“The way they’re running, I would be surprised if he retired,” the elder Truex said Tuesday by phone. “But that’s up to him.”
The JGR driver has publicly pondered retirement for a second straight season. Truex quieted season-long speculation last June that he could retire at the end of 2022 with a succinct statement: “ I’m back. ”
Last year, the possibility of retirement seemed a bit more understandable. The 43-year-old Truex struggled in the first season of NASCAR’s new Next Gen stock car. He failed to win a race or make the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when he drove for now-defunct Furniture Row Racing, the organization where he would shortly undergo a career rebirth and win the 2017 championship.
Once FRR went away, Truex moved to Gibbs and won seven races in his first season. He’s a three-time championship runner-up since moving to Gibbs and he’s won 19 races since joining the organization -- including his first one in 30 tries at New Hampshire.
Truex insisted he’s honestly conflicted about the outcome.
“I’m bad at making big decisions,” he said.
Truex has figured out the car and the results show he’s in sync with crew chief James Small. Truex has won three of the last 10 Cup races — oddly, Dover and New Hampshire were on Mondays — and has four other top 10s over that span.
“I think it’s just learning these new cars,” Truex Sr. said. “It’s a whole new different package. It takes a little time, especially with no practicing. So whoever hits it is gonna look like a superstar.”
And that’s his son right now.
“They’re on to something,” Truex Sr. said.
Truex, who is 0 for 19 in the Daytona 500, picked up two of his more meaningful victories of his career this season.
The first came in May at Dover when he was part of a family sweep at the track. Younger brother Ryan won the second-tier Xfinity Series race for his first NASCAR victory across all three national series in 188 career starts. Big brother was the first one to poke his head in Ryan’s Toyota as he pulled it into victory lane. Dad was there to celebrate with both sons.
“That was awesome. Like a dream come true,” Truex Sr. said.
Then came New Hampshire. The elder Truex, who raised his family in Mayetta, New Jersey, still owns the Maryland-based clam supplier Sea Watch International. He had enough free weekends to race stock cars, mostly in the Northeast. He even made 15 starts in what is now the Xfinity Series.
It was those family trips to the track -- Ryan tweeted an old photo of him, Martin and their mother at the track — that helped form Truex’s earliest racing memories. It also helped get Truex hooked on racing — and dad could tell he had a prodigy.
“I knew that when he was 12 years old racing go-karts,” Truex said. “He was above his class. He was good at it.”
Truex Sr. won the 1994 Auto Palace/Slick 50 150 in the Busch North Series in July 1994 at Loudon. (Naturally, his sponsor was Blount Seafood). Ryan Truex won at Loudon, too, taking the checkered flag in 2010 in a K&N Pro Series East race. Martin had just turned 20 when he won he won a regional stock car series race at the track in the same race his father finished fifth.
His father then promptly retired.
“He’s like, ‘you’re too good. I need to give you my cars, the best equipment I have and put everything behind you,’” Truex Jr. said. “I’m like, why are you doing that? (He said) ’You can win here and keep going.'"
Truex hasn’t stopped yet.
But the time to hang up the helmet is coming.
Truex said he was poised to buy a saltwater fishing boat so he could spend his free days on the water in search of some tuna. It sounded like a perfect retirement gift to himself. Dad said don’t worry, if Truex wants to keep racing and still fish, the family has a Viking 56 Convertible at their disposal.
Truex laughed as he said his family “screwed up” for not attending Monday’s win. That’s OK. Truex Sr. said the family already booked their trip for the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Phoenix because he thinks Truex will race for the championship?
“Absolutely,” the elder Truex said.
But will Phoenix also serve as the last time Truex will strap in and drive the Toyota?
“I wish I had more time to figure out what I want to do next year, but I don’t,” he said. “So I’ll know soon and you’ll know soon.”