NASCAR: Truex proved his skills are sharp as ever

Credit: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 05: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, (C) winner, Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet, (L) second place and Kyle Busch, driver of the #8 BetMGM Chevrolet, third place pose for photos on the podium after the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After contemplating retirement in 2022, Martin Truex Jr. proved age hasn’t diminished his skills in the Busch Light Clash

Martin Truex Jr. took his seat at the table in the USC Trojans’ football locker room at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, just as crew chief, James Small, wrapped up his press conference. Around his neck hung a gold medal he received on the podium underneath the Olympic cauldron about a half-hour earlier. It was his prize for winning the Busch Light Clash, his first win since Sept. 11, 2021 (albeit, a non-points win). After the race Truex said,

“Yeah, it was definitely satisfying. Anytime you win it’s obviously satisfying.”

After considering retirement in 2022, Truex proved Sunday that age hasn’t dampened his championship-caliber skills.

Truex shined when it counted the most

While not the dominant driver of The Clash, Truex grabbed victory when it mattered most. With 26 laps to go, he side-swiped Ryan Preece exiting Turn 4 for the race lead, and never gave it up. In spite of multiple restarts, caused by drivers racing like it’s their beer-league iRacing server or running out of fuel. After the race he noted,

“It’s frustrating when you’ve got a big lead and like (Michael McDowell) was trying to — he rode around at like 10 miles an hour for three or four laps; he should’ve just got off the damn track, you know what I mean? Obviously, he wasn’t going to finish the race. So why was he just riding around? So that was frustrating.”

Then with seven laps to go, Austin Dillon dumped Bubba Wallace in Turn 1. All while Truex dealt with brake issues. Truex stated,

“I’m not sure what was going on. Our rear brakes got too hot or we did something and lost all the rear braking and start locking up front tires getting into the corner, and I just kept putting more rear brake in and I was about to be out of adjustment. I’ve never, ever in my whole entire career put that many rounds of rear brake in a car, so I was a little nervous about that. I was kind of locking up all four tires getting into the corner I and just trying to make the corner.”

Lady Luck favored him, Sunday, as he pulled away from the field on the final restart to win The Clash.

A much-needed confidence boost

Last season just three points kept Truex out of the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Moreover, despite winning 29 NASCAR Cup Series races since 2015 (third only to Kyle Busch [30] and Kevin Harvick [32]), he finished 2022 winless.

And it wasn’t due to a lack of performance. He entered the cutoff race at Daytona International Speedway fourth in points. But the lack of victories and struggles on both short tracks and road courses bit him in the end.

So, coming into The Clash and starting a new season with a victory is a much-needed confidence boost for Truex. He stated,

“Just reminds you that you’re doing the right stuff. Any of these races are hard to win. All of them are hard to win. Doesn’t matter if there’s points or not. We’re proud of this one. It’s a big deal.”

Of course, there’s probably not much you can extrapolate from an exhibition event. Especially one held on a quarter-mile track that NASCAR races on once a year, and the first points race of the season being a 500-mile restrictor plate race at Daytona. Furthermore, winning The Clash doesn’t guarantee you’ll win a race, that season. Both Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones ended 2019 and 2020 winless, after winning The Clash.

Whether it translates to wins in 2023, only time will tell. For now, however, Truex carries all the momentum into Speedweeks.

TOP IMAGE: Chris Graythen/Getty Images