Truex Jr. finally wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Published 7:44 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023
LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. had just chewed up the competition to win at the same New Hampshire track where his dad won a regional stock car series race in 1994 when he clutched a 22-pound live lobster given to the winner and chomped on a claw.
“I’d … sure like to throw him on the grill right now if you can find him,” the younger Truex said later of the crustacean.
Maybe Truex can save the feast for a meal on the saltwater fishing boat the veteran driver says he’s buying this week. Truex had long wanted one — when he didn’t tag along as a kid with his mom and little brother to the racetrack, he worked on his dad’s clamming boat — but the pull of another day at the race shop or the commitments of long NASCAR weekends always made him put it off.
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“I won’t fish for lobster on my boat,” Truex said, laughing. “I’ll fish for fish. Tuna.”
Sounds perfect for retirement.
Truex has few boxes left to check in his career. The latest came in yet another masterful Monday matinee when he won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the first time in 30 career Cup tries. The win did more than earn him a big meal — it triggered melancholy memories from his childhood at the same track where he watched his dad share space with some of racing’s greats.
New Hampshire was where Truex saw Dale Earnhardt tinker with his carburetor under the hood of his car. It’s where Truex got his first taste of the sights, smells and sounds of a NASCAR garage.
It’s where a few hours after the 43-year-old Truex led 254 laps in the No. 19 Toyota and won his third Cup race of the season, he pondered just how much longer he wanted to continue his NASCAR career.
Team owner Joe Gibbs wondered why Truex would give it up.
“I really felt like he’s having such, I think, a great year, and I think he’s having fun, and so I’m hoping that we get a good answer for us here,” Gibbs said.
Time is ticking on a decision. Truex announced last June that he would return for 2023 and he hasn’t made up his mind yet on 2024. Gibbs needs an answer. So do the sponsors and all other interested parties affected by Truex’s decision.
“I think it is, though, very important for us to kind of have some pressure here because it’s pressure for all of us,” Gibbs said. “It’s a huge deal for us.”
Truex, the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion, said he was close to choosing. He is still driving at an elite level and has stamped himself again a serious contender for the Cup championship. But the choice is much more complicated for Truex than making it about simply wins and losses.
“They deserve the very best driver, the guy that wants it more than anyone else, and I’ve been that guy,” Truex said. “I want to make sure that if I come back, I’m willing to do that. It takes a lot. It’s not just show up at the track, drive the car, go home. It takes a lot. It takes a lot of commitment. It’s a lot of travel. A lot of time missing things with family and friends and all those things that I’ve done for 25 years. Do I want to keep doing it and am I willing to sacrifice all those things again for my team?”
JGR hopes the answer is yes.
“Our focus is on this championship and winning that, and we’ll worry about next year come December,” crew chief James Small said.
At the Magic Mile, the answer could wait another day; it was simply time for an overdue celebration.
“This one’s been eluding me for a long, long time,” Truex said.
Truex led with 15 laps left when JGR teammate Christopher Bell, last year’s New Hampshire winner, smacked the wall to bring out the eighth caution.
“We should have a company policy that says when one of your teammates is leading, don’t crash by yourself,” Truex said over the radio.
It really didn’t matter for Truex. He pulled away off the restart with nine laps left and could taste victory — and soon enough, the lobster that traditionally goes to the winner.
There was no such tasty prize in 1994 when the elder Truex won at New Hampshire. The Truex family went to the track so often that younger brother — and fellow driver Ryan Truex — tweeted a family photo of the kid brothers and mom in the grandstands.
About as soon as Truex could race at New Hampshire, he won. Truex had just turned 20 when he won a regional stock car series race at the track. Pretty cool. Even better? His father finished fifth in the same race.
“This place is a big reason why I got to where I am,” the younger Truex said.
Truex found early success in Loudon once he transitioned to Cup in 2006, rattling off a third-place finish and a fifth in 2007 when the series still raced here twice a season and a fourth and seventh in 2008. He had six straight top 10s from 2016 to 2020 and led 172 laps from the pole last season before he faded to fourth. Truex said his JGR team “panicked” with a late call for two tires that backfired and cost them the checkered flag.
“It’s always been one that I wanted so bad, and maybe I think too bad at times,” Truex said.
The wait is over.
With 34 wins, a championship and three season runner-up finishes, Truex has built his case for the Hall of Fame.
If only he can pull off the perfect ending.
“It would be pretty awesome to win the championship and walk off into the sunset,” he said.
Joey Logano finished second. Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.
Kyle Busch was forced to drive his backup car after the No. 8 Chevrolet suffered damage in both practice and qualifying. Busch hit the wall early in the race and was forced out after 71 laps. The two-time Cup champion finished last. Busch had one win and finished in the top 10 in each of his last seven races.
“I’ve been lacking right-rear grip the whole time we’ve been here,” he said. “Just couldn’t get the right-rear feel in the race track.”
The series shifts to Pocono Raceway, where Chase Elliott is the defending race winner — even though he failed to finish first. Denny Hamlin had his Pocono win thrown out and so did runner-up Kyle Busch because of failed inspections. Hamlin was the first winner DQ’d since 1960.