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While Truex ran competitively last season, he went winless in the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time since 2014 and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Sunday’s win in the non-points race on the ¼-mile asphalt track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum doesn’t do anything for Truex or his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team as far as the 2023 season goes, but it does provide a reminder the group can still find Victory Lane.
Asked how he was different entering this season, Truex said, “Mad. Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year. If you look at all the statistics, we had a decent year. We were consistent. We scored a lot of points. We struggled on short tracks and road courses, which ultimately is what kept us out of the playoffs.
“Just so many times that we felt like we were doing the right things and probably should have won a couple races, and they got away from us. That was very, very frustrating. Knowing that we were doing everything we needed to do to win, it sucked.
“Just wanting to go out and show them what we can do. We’ve been very fired up this off-season, working very hard, all of us.”
Race winner Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
Truex’s crew chief, James Small, has noticed a difference in his driver as well.
“He’s super motivated, and we’re all behind him. We knew we could do this, and we just needed to hit it right,” he said. “I think last year was a big disappointment for all of us. He knew he’s way better than that, and he’s just ready to get going. We all just want to prove everyone wrong.
“I think we learned a lot last year. We had races where we had a lot of speed and things didn’t go right, but we also had races where we made poor decisions, and I think we learned a lot. You saw when we get it right, this is what we’re capable of.”
Truex’s performance in Sunday’s race was night-and-day over last year’s event, when he was among the last to qualify for the 23-car field and did not run competitively in the event, eventually finishing 15th.
From zero to hero
A difference in Truex could be seen as soon as cars hit the track on Friday as he posted the fastest average lap speed in the practice sessions and started on the pole in one of four 25-lap heat races on Sunday.
“Honestly, we were probably the worst car here last year, literally, besides maybe the guys that didn’t have charters. We were just God awful,” Truex, 42, said. “We barely made the race. Rode around the back and I spun out by myself on the last lap it was so bad, you know, trying to pass one car.
“To come back this year and be first in practice, I was really honestly nervous (Saturday) night. I went to bed thinking (Sunday) was going to suck. It was going to be a long day because it’s going to be hard to pass and we were starting sixth in our heat on the outside.
“To be able to drive up through the field in the heat and win that was just huge. It was a huge confidence builder.”
Truex proved just as strong in the 150-lap main event and while he didn’t win a points race, the result is just as important.
“It’s just nice when it all works out and you can come to the track and things go the way you hope they will,” he said. “Hopefully, we can do a lot more of that.
“I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”