Martin Truex Jr. is no stranger to the NASCAR Cup Series postseason, and as the 2023 edition gets set to begin Sunday at Darlington Raceway, Truex has found the season feels very similar to his championship run from six years ago.
“Just the feeling that every weekend when we go to the track, we’re going to have a shot to win or we should have a shot to win, and just confidence in my team and what they’re doing,” Truex said. “I ask for things in practice, and they always find a way to make the car better when I need it. Whether we have a good or bad practice, I always feel like we race well. They are just doing a good job of pushing the right buttons and giving me what I need, and that’s really what this stuff’s all about.”
Truex and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team begin the hunt for a championship from the No. 2 seed with three race wins and six stage wins. By winning the regular-season championship, Truex was awarded 15 additional playoff points to give him a starting tally of 36.
During his 2017 championship run, Truex was a master of earning playoff points and showing how valuable they are to have banked. It was also the first year of playoff points being a part of the postseason equation, and Truex entered that year with 53. The 36 playoff points that he carries into Sunday night at Darlington (6 p.m. ET, USA) are the second-most Truex has entered a postseason with.
“I feel good,” Truex said. “I feel as good as I ever have going into the playoffs. It’s been a really strong year for us, consistently up at the front and doing what we need to do. Certainly, let a few wins slip away, which is always disappointing, but to have three and the (Busch Light) Clash win, that’s a pretty good regular season, so just have to keep putting ourselves in the position.”
Although he doesn’t feel like he learned anything from last season’s playoff miss, Truex feels his whole team was inspired by the setback to reassert themselves this year. “It really lit a fire under everybody.” Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images
Truex missed the postseason last year after going winless through the regular season and losing out on the final transfer spot on points to Ryan Blaney. However, Truex was one of the most consistent drivers in the field and had multiple opportunities for a victory slip through his fingers. He finished 17th in the championship standings, the highest non-playoff driver.
Not since 2014 had Truex missed the postseason. But despite being on the outside looking in for the first time in quite a while, Truex said he didn’t get a new perspective or learn anything different from watching the postseason unfold without him.
“I feel like we had so many races where we were contending still, and it didn’t feel any different to me,” Truex said. “You can just tell when the playoffs start, everybody is keyed up; it’s turned up a couple of notches, and that’s always been the key for us in the playoffs. I think finding that little bit extra. In our great years, we always found something extra, and that’s really what it takes, so I’m hoping we can do that again.”
But what missing the 2022 postseason did do was become the chip on the shoulder of Truex and his team for a new season.
“The day after Phoenix last year, it was like, ‘All right, we’re getting to work,’” Truex said. “It really lit a fire under everybody to just show how bad they wanted it and go to work on it. I think our whole group across the board really, right after Phoenix, got to work on things, and it definitely was a big inspiration for us this year.”