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NASCAR debuted the latest iteration of its Cup car last season with only a hurried and limited testing schedule in the previous offseason, so much of the “learning” done by teams came on the track in 2022 – something akin to “trial by race.”
But Truex, the series’ 2017 champion, believes teams – including his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – have already made significant gains this season.
“We know a lot more this year than we did this time last year. It was pretty eye-opening to see how different the car was around this time last year, as far as how you set it up and how you work on it,” Truex, 42, said.
“We’ve learned a ton and feel pretty confident about how it’s different than last year and, in a lot of cases last year, we learned what not to do.”
Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota Camry
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
NASCAR also made some rule changes to the car – mostly safety-related – in the offseason and each of the manufacturers submitted a new nose design for their respective entries which were approved.
“You know, it’s still a race car. It has four tires, gas pedal, brake pedal, steering wheel, shifter. You get to learn how to drive it and learn what it wants,” he said. “I feel like we’ve done that. I know what I need in it now.
“I think from the Toyota side of things that we were lacking in some areas last year. NASCAR changed some rules and I feel like we are all closer together now. I think that’s going to be plus for us because we were lacking a lot at the short tracks and road courses, to be specific.
“A lot of good things for us on paper, but you’ve got to see what happens on the track. Last year, I felt comfortable in the car in just a few weeks, and then it was all about how we apply it, and we have a great team that works hard on figuring all of that out.”
Showing signs of promise
Truex has been solid but not spectacular to start the 2023 season. He led 13 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished 15th.
Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, Truex was hampered by a two-lap penalty when he lost a wheel on the track following a pit stop but rallied to finish 11th.
He’s looking forward to a return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, where he was in contention for a victory last year in the spring race until it went into overtime.
Truex and then JGR-teammate Kyle Busch were battling back-and-forth for the win in the final stage of last year’s race when a caution for a wreck with two laps remaining sent the race into overtime.
All the lead-lap cars pit but three Hendrick Motorsports drivers – Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron – took only two tires and lined up in the top three spots on the restart. Busch, who restarted fourth, was the first car on four new tires.
Bowman and Larson raced side-by-side on the first lap overtime, essentially holding up the field behind them, and Bowman finally cleared Larson for the lead and the win.
“I’m really fired up about going to Vegas and then on to Phoenix to finish the West Coast swing and see where we stack up,” Truex said. “I think we were pretty fast at Fontana but had some issues there and didn’t get the track position back to get all the way back up front and fight for the win.
“These are three completely different race tracks and we should get a good gauge after the next couple of weeks of where we are at.”