NASCAR: NJ native Martin Truex Jr. on turning 40 and year two with Joe Gibbs


Martin Truex Jr. had a chance to reflect before he leads the field to green at NASCAR’s All-Star showcase at Bristol on Wednesday.

Martin Truex Jr. turned 40 on June 29. Prior to a runner-up finish in Kentucky Speedway’s Quaker State 400 on Sunday, Truex insisted that he wasn’t “feeling” 40. The Mayetta, New Jersey native might have contradicted himself, however, when pressed about the “underglow” lighting NASCAR plans to use for its All-Star Race on Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FS1).

“I’m not a huge fan of it. I don’t know, I think it’s kind of ridiculous looking,” Truex said with a smirk, perhaps aware his comments against the Fast and Furious-style enhancements were dating him. “It’s really up to what everybody wants and what the fans like. It’s not like we get to vote on it or anything. I found out just a few days ago. We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, as well as its competitors, will look different in more ways than one during the annual exhibition. In addition to the underglow, the cars’ side numbers have been pushed back. The race will also feature NASCAR’s first instance of the “choose cone” mandates, where drivers will be allowed to pick their lane on restarts, potentially sacrificing positions to draw their preferred lane.

This will also be the first time the All-Star race is held away from Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1986.

It’ll be Truex’s redesign that leads the field to green in the main event, having drawn pole position in the weekly lineup sweepstakes. Truex has a de facto lifetime pass to the event as one of eight active drivers who have taken home a NASCAR Cup Series title. Other invitees include prior All-Star Race winners and winners from any points race from the prior season or ongoing season up to that point (Rookie Cole Custer held off Truex at Kentucky to earn his spot). Three drivers can race their way in by winning any tier of the NASCAR All-Star Open beforehand and one more will enter via a fan vote.

Truex, however, doesn’t have to worry about his entry with the 2017 Cup Series title under his belt. He appeared to be a bit more focused on the stakes the remaining 19 points races have instead.

This marks Truex second season in Gibbs’ stable, joining the team after his single-car operation at Denver-based Furniture Row Racing shut down. It was in Furniture Row’s No. 78 that Truex earned his Cup title and he has posted back-to-back runner-up finishes in the standings, including last year in the No. 19 (in which he won a circuit-best seven races). After his second-place posting at Kentucky, Truex sits in seventh place in the current ledger. He won June’s 500-lap event at Martinsville Speedway and his nine finishes in the top ten are tied for fourth-best on the circuit. This modern success has been accomplished under the supervision of new crew chief James Small, who previously worked with Truex on the engineering side of things at both FRM and JGR.

Truex made two remarks in his Sunday availability that should inspire some fear into his competition: he feels his No. 19 team hasn’t hit its full potential yet in this new era of no practice or qualifying. That, and the fact he mentioned that he’s showing no inclinations toward retirement despite reaching his fourth decade.

“I don’t know we’re where we want to be right now,” Truex admitted. “I think last year, one of the things we struggled with was unloading off the trailer and being where we wanted to be. I felt like we always had to make a lot of gains throughout the weekends. This year, since coming back without having practice, I feel like it’s hurt us a lot. We’ve had some inconsistencies here and there and we’ve just had some bad races. It’s really not typical for us. I definitely would say we’re not where we want to be from that standpoint.”

“We really just have been missing practice a bit there. Our strength always as a team was figuring out how to get the car better between practice and the race. That was really something we really excelled at and we’ve missed out on that I feel like.”

As for retirement, Truex made it quite clear that he views his 40th birthday in a completely different light from that of his father’s.

“I’m glad to be 40, I’m glad to make it another year,” he remarked. “It’s funny, when I got reminded that it was coming up, I remembered back to when my Dad turned 40 and me thinking how old he was. Getting up there for sure, but I don’t feel 40 so I guess that’s a good thing.”

“I really hadn’t thought much about (how many years I have left) to be honest…I think I just kind of take it as the contracts come along and think about where I’m at, how things are going. Right now, I’m loving what I’m doing, I love my team and I’ve got a lot of great partners that have made it all possible. I think as long as we keep having success, we’ll just keep rolling.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags