Truex, 41, confirmed on Friday evening from the Nashville Superspeedway that he’ll return to his seat in the No. 19 Toyota for JGR for next season. It will mark his 18th full time season in the Cup Series, 5 of which coming as a member of Joe Gibbs Racing.
It’s no secret, for much of the first half of the season, Truex was mulling his future and how long he wanted to keep racing. With a new car and not being as competitive as he normally is, he questioned on how much longer he wanted to do this. There’s no doubt about it, the New Jersey native is a future Hall of Famer in the sport. He’s a champion in both the Xfinity Series (2004, 2005) as well as the Cup Series (2017) to go along with 31 career victories in NASCAR’s premiere series. Among those 31 wins are in some of the biggest races in the sport including the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 at that. His 5 Championship 4’s are tied for most ever too.
But, with a contract on the table, Truex elected not to refuse it anymore and will be back for another season.
He first joined the Cup Series on a full time basis in 2006. However, his rise to the top hasn’t been easy.
He finished 19th in the final standings as a rookie in 2006. Then, he made the playoffs in his second season, a year in which he earned his first victory in NASCAR’s premiere series. He did so at what is considered his home track of Dover. See, Truex grew up in New Jersey and one of the closer race tracks to his homestate is the one at Dover.
Fitting, he earned his first win there. But, Truex had some lean years following that which left him switching teams to Michael Waltrip Racing for the 2010 season.
With DEI and then Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Truex had one win, 13 top five finishes, 37 top 10’s, four poles and 861 laps led.
Unfortunately, MWR wasn’t much of a high point either. In his four year span with them, Truex earned one win, 18 top five finishes, 53 top 10’s, three poles and 1,028 laps led. Plus, the way his tenure with MWR ended started a bizarre story that leads to where Truex is today.
See, Truex was starting to find his stride a bit with MWR in 2013. He won at Sonoma that year and finished with seven top five’s which tied for the most he’s ever had in a single season, 15 top 10’s (2nd most) and a 15.1 average finishing spot, again second most. His 12.1 average finishing spot in 2012 was the best he’s ever had.
Then, the cheating scandal happened which rocked NASCAR and forced Truex out of a ride and MWR to shut their doors for good.
In the final regular season race at Richmond, Truex was close to making the playoffs on points. It was between him and Jeff Gordon for that final spot. MWR had Clint Bowyer, Truex’s teammate, purposely spin in the closing laps of the race to bring out a caution. It helped Truex dramatically and he, not Gordon, took the final spot.
But, NASCAR later ruled that the whole situation was sketchy and penalized MWR/Bowyer for a cheating scandal. The fall out though took Truex out of the playoffs and Gordon in as his replacement. In turn, NAPA who was Truex’s sponsor at the time with MWR was irate and wanted to move away from MWR. Nothing against Truex, as he wasn’t involved in this, but NAPA wanted out.
So, without a sponsor and a huge fine to MWR, Truex’s ride was gone. He had no part in the cheating but he was let go due to funding the the fallout not of his doing.
Truex, with two wins, 33 top five finishes, 90 top 10’s, seven poles and 1,889 laps led was left searching for a new ride. Those stats weren’t glaring to merit a top ride, so where would he go?
With Kurt Busch departing Furniture Row Racing, that was the best available. They, like Truex, had similar stats and paths through the 2013 season – one win, 13 top five finishes, 27 top 10’s, one pole and 496 laps led read their career NASCAR stats.
Truex, was starting to find his groove in 2012 and again in 2013 while FRR was too. 448 of their 496 laps led for FRR happened in that 2013 season. 12 of the top fives and 19 of the top 10’s occurred over the last two years too.
So, for 2014, it was Truex and FRR teaming up. Then, came the news that his long time girlfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Another big blow to him.
2014 was rough for his personal life and on track experience. No wins, one top five finish, five top 10’s, one lap led and his girlfriend going through a battle with cancer. It was a year that really tested him.
His strength and character really showed up in 2015 in a big way. It was the start of a crazy turnaround.
Truex, won at Pocono, had a career high in eight top five finishes and 22 top 10’s to go along with 567 laps led. He marched all the way to the Championship 4 with the little team that could. That in turn led FRR to find an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and a manufacturer switch from Chevrolet to Toyota and turned Truex’s life around for the better.
In 2016 alone, Truex had four wins, eight top five finishes, 17 top 10’s, five poles and 1,809 laps led. Prior to that, he had three wins, eight poles and 2,457 laps led combined.
The next year was even better. Truex, won the championship on a season that saw him reach victory lane eight times, score 19 top five finishes, 26 top 10s, three poles and 2,253 laps led.
All the past heartbreaks for Truex was erased. They were just scars to remind him the hard road to the top. Now, he has emerged as the top driver in NASCAR today.
Then, came another roadblock. FRR had no money to continue on past 2018. Despite a championship in 2017, 2018 would be their final year in NASCAR. Still, Truex managed to fight his way to the final round yet again. He did so with four wins, 20 top fives, 21 top 10’s, four poles and 1,016 laps led.
Remember those stats heading to FRR? Those two wins, 33 top five finishes, 90 top 10’s, seven poles and 1,889 laps led? Well, with FRR, he had 17 wins, 56 top five finishes, 91 top 10’s, 12 poles and 5,646 laps led. He did so in 117 less starts.
Now, he was a free agent AGAIN. I mean, how? How could a driver of this caliber be a free agent?
But, his stats now heading to free agency were a lot different than they were in 2013. That led him to go not too far from home – Joe Gibbs Racing. Toyota wasn’t going to let him get away.
In year No. 1 with JGR, Truex was back into the Championship 4 as that then was his fourth trip in the last five years. He had seven more wins, 14 top fives, 21 top 10’s and 1,268 laps led heading to the final round that year but he failed to win the title.
After a down season with a new crew chief in 2020, he was back where he belonged in 2021.
Out of his 31 career wins but 29 of them have come since 2015. Now, he’s got to be in the conversation as a Hall of Fame lock. It wasn’t a career that looked like it was going that way prior to 2015, but it sure does now.