Martin Truex Jr. is the defending NASCAR regular-season champion. That wasn’t the goal, obviously, for the overall 2023 season but that feat, along with three Cup wins, certainly made 2023 a decent year.
He’s back in 2024 for his 19th Cup Series season. It will start with the Clash next week at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Truex, who went winless in 2022, jumpstarted his 2023 year with a victory in the exhibition event.
So he returns to Los Angeles looking to repeat that feat and hope that his regular-season success from last year returns along with a much less frustrating playoffs, where he struggled and eventually was eliminated in the semifinal round.
And, of course, there’s the question of whether he’ll be back in 2025. In 2022, he made his decision to return for another year in June. In 2023, he waited until August before signing his Joe Gibbs Racing deal. So how about this year?
We talk about all that in this Q&A with the 2017 Cup champion and winner of 34 Cup races who is still looking for his first Daytona 500 victory:
So how was the offseason? Was it quiet?
It’s been good. I got some fun hunting and fishing in. But I’ll tell you, it goes by fast, and I feel like every year it goes by quicker and quicker.
Why do you think that is? Were you looking forward to getting back? Or did you not catch as many fish?
I think just time flies when you’re having fun. I have been lucky enough to do some fun stuff. And I think just the older you get, the quicker the offseasons go by for whatever reason.
Daytona 500 — just how important is a win there for yourself? Or do you not sweat that kind of thing?
Obviously, I want it. It’d be great, be amazing. I don’t know if I’d be completely disappointed with my career as a whole if someday when I retire and I look back and I’m like, ‘Ah, I didn’t win that race.’ I don’t know if that is a big deal to me or not. I still have opportunities to get it done, so I try not to think about it. But it’d be huge to win, that’s for sure.
Do you have any idea how the new Toyota body for 2024 will impact how it will race?
Superspeedways? I’m not sure how different it’ll be. I’m guessing it’ll probably be similar to what we had. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot — there’s not a whole big, huge box to work on anymore as far as the new car goes. I’m optimistic that it’s going to be really good everywhere and better than what we had. And, hopefully, it’s good on the speedways as well.
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Last year was such a great regular season, not-so-great playoffs. Have you said good riddance to last year or do you look at last year now a few months later and say’ OK that still was a pretty darn good year with everything we did?’
You always look at everything. You look at the good and the bad, and you try to learn from everything and try to be better. Obviously, ‘22 to ‘23 was a huge step for us. And the playoffs — it was kind of interesting how it played out and some of it, I don’t really quite understand what happened. And some of it, I do. We’re working hard to do better and be more consistent. That’s the name of the game with this car and everything just being so close now. Just being more consistent, making better decisions, less mistakes and having better speed everywhere, hopefully. We’ve just got to repeat the regular season and figure out how to turn it up in the playoffs like we used to.
Your season started with a win at the Clash. So maybe that’s why your offseason went by so fast — you were looking forward to defending your Clash victory?
I am looking forward to defending the Clash victory and excited to get out there and see if we can do it again. I like the new format with not having to qualify and going off practice times [for the heat lineups] because last year we were really fast in practice — I think fastest overall — and then in qualifying, we had to go out after one of those long commercial breaks and the track cooled off and we qualified bad and had to start in a bad spot for our heat race. But, overall, what we learned last year should really be helpful and hopefully we can find a little bit more from there and go back it up.
Are you going to be back in that chair a year from now (for another preseason production day)?
I mean, come on. It’s January. It’s January.
I thought maybe you’d say OK, we’ll get it done now instead of June, July, August or September?
I expect that question from you a lot this year, Bob, and I can tell you it’s probably going to take even longer this year to figure it out. So you might have to wait until September.
I might wait until May and then ask every couple of weeks?
I’ll let you know when I know.
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.