LEBANON, Tenn. (AP) — It took Martin Truex Jr. only seven words to end the season-long speculation about his future in NASCAR.
“I’m back in the 19 next year,” Truex said at Nashville Superspeedway. A statement from Joe Gibbs Racing was even more brief: ”I'm coming back," was Truex's attributed quote.
Nice and succinct for the 2017 NASCAR champion, who has never been verbose but particularly short on details as he pondered his future the last several months. His contract with JGR expires at the end of the year, and the most Truex would reveal was that the organization needed a decision from the driver this summer.
“The competitive side of me said I’m not done and I’m going to keep fighting, so here we are," said Truex, who turns 42 on Wednesday.
Next year will be his 18th season in the Cup Series, and the New Jersey native has 31 career wins and a pair of Xfinity Series titles. He heads into Sunday's race at Nashville winless on the season but ranked sixth in the standings.
Now that Truex is signed, JGR can turn its full attention to two-time champion Kyle Busch. He's also in a contract year but JGR needs a sponsor for the No. 18 because longtime partner Mars, Inc. is leaving NASCAR after this season.
With Truex returning, JGR keeps a perpetual title contender. He advanced to NASCAR's title-deciding championship race in four of the last five seasons, winning his only title in 2017 when he drove for now-defunct Furniture Row Racing. He has finished second in the championship three times since, including last year when he lost to Kyle Larson.
He's a three-time runner-up since moving to Gibbs in 2018, and he's won 16 races since joining the organization.
“We’re delighted that our 2017 Cup Champion, partner and friend is back in his Camry TRD for at least another year," said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development.
It was unclear what Truex might decide in part because of his own struggles in the new Next Gen stock car, but also JGR's struggles. The four JGR drivers — Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Truex — have a combined three wins. Bell and Truex have yet to reach victory lane.
“I think as we all continue to learn and grow, the good teams will be the good teams everywhere,” Busch said. "But you know, it is kind of patchy, right now with just getting an understanding built around this car.”
The struggle in performance had bothered Truex, who only has seven top-10 finishes through 16 races.
“I don’t like not running good,” Truex said. “I’m here to win. I feel like everybody is working really, really hard right now. It’s an up-and-down sport. I’ve been a lot worse off than this before. We’re sitting in a good spot in points ... but I feel like we’re getting closer and we’ll keep doing all we can.”
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