A victory in the Busch Light Clash didn’t come with points or a berth in the NASCAR Cup series playoffs, but Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team will take the confidence booster.
Truex was not a part of the postseason last year. Despite a solid season statistically, Truex & Co. went winless and are back with a vengeance this season. Inside the L.A. Coliseum, Truex was one of only a handful of drivers who had a clean weekend, was perhaps the fastest from the time teams unloaded, and dominated the final stretch of the event.
Afterwards, crew chief James Small said everyone was motivated to get back to the racetrack. Small also said his driver is a different person.
Truex gave a simple answer when asked how he’s different.
“Mad,” he said.
Truex was a top-five driver in the Cup series championship standings at the end of the 2022 regular season but, without a win, was left out of the playoffs. But Truex led the series in stage wins at that point and ended the year with over 500 laps led.
Running well and contending wasn’t the issue. Closing races and misfortune were. A strong performance in the Clash reminded Truex’s team that they are doing everything right.
“(I’m) just determined,” Truex said Sunday night. “I just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year. If we 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.
“But just so many times we felt like we were doing the right things and probably should have won a couple of races, and they got away from us. It was very, very frustrating knowing that we were doing everything we needed to do to win. It sucked.”
After taking the lead from Ryan Preece, Truex led the final 25 laps of the Clash. The victory is the first for him in a Clash event.
Last season, when Truex wound up 17th, broke a streak of five consecutive years where Truex had finished seventh or better in the championship standings. In four of those five years, Truex qualified for the Championship 4, including the 2017 season in which he won the championship.
“(We’re) just wanting to go out and show them what we can do,” he continued. “We’ve been fired up this offseason working very hard, all of us, and it’s nice when it all works out, and you can come to the track, and things go the way you hope they will. Hopefully, we can do a lot more of that.
“We have a lot of good going on in our camp (and) at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go. But I feel really good about things, fired up and excited, and this is just a good feeling to be able to win a race, even though it’s not for points or anything. It’s good momentum.”