By most accounts, Truex appeared headed toward a solid season last year. At the end of the regular season, he was without a win but still fourth in points.
However, with the unusual high number of different winners in the first 26 races in 2022, fourth in points wasn’t good enough to qualify for the playoffs.
Locked out of the championship battle, Truex ended the year with three top-10 finishes in the final 10 races and wound-up 17th in points, his lowest performance since 2014.
Race winner Martin Truex, Jr, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
Truex’s victory in Monday’s rain-delayed race snapped a 54-race winless streak dating back to 2021 and ensured him a spot in the playoffs just 11 races into this season.
“Last year after missing the playoffs, this one is pretty big,” Truex, 42, said. “Missed it by three points. We were fourth in points at that point in time, and we missed it.
“It was a real gut punch, especially after how many times we felt like we were capable of winning races or should have won races, just had a lot of tough luck.
“Just proud to be able to do it, and it’s always good to win.”
Martin Truex, Jr, Joe Gibbs Racing, Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry
Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images
Prior to his struggles last season, Truex had won at least one race and advanced to the playoffs for seven consecutive years, including winning his first series title in 2017.
Truex, who signed a one-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing to return this season, has visited Victory Lane already in 2023, winning the preseason exhibition Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Although no points were on the line, Truex felt the win was a signal he and his No. 19 Toyota team were back headed in the right direction this season.
“It was really big for us. I know that it’s not a points event and everything else, but just for us with last year really struggling on short tracks, I feel like we put a huge effort together this off-season to be prepared for this year,” Truex said.
“I think our whole team was really motivated to get better and to do whatever we needed to do and really communicated a lot about the things we needed to work on. So, really the Clash was a big deal to get, and it gave us a lot of confidence.”
Moving in the right direction
Before Monday’s win, Truex had inconsistent results through the first 10 races. But over the last month, Truex had led 56 laps at Richmond, finished seventh at the dirt race at Bristol and third at Martinsville.
Despite a 27th-place finish last week at Talladega, Truex said he felt his team was ready to show its full potential.
“I said – I think it was this week – that I feel really good about where we’re at and I feel like we were ready to break loose and get on a run,” Truex said.
“Here we are, so I’m glad that I was right about it, and we’ve got some great tracks coming up for us and a lot of confidence now and locked in the playoffs and we can get aggressive and have some fun.”