By Bob Pockras
FOX Sports Writer NASCAR
LEBANON, Tenn. — Martin Truex Jr. could have potentially created chaos NASCAR silly season if he chose to retire in November.
His decision last week to return to Joe Gibbs Racing for at least one more season took a potentially elite open race off the table and potentially set the stage for a year of free agency without substantial change.
“I felt like it was an opportunity for me to look at everything,” Truex said of the decision-making process. “I’ve never really done this before. I’ve always done what I’ve been doing. And I just wanted to make sure that if I continued I would be happy with that decision.
“And I have the opportunity to do the things on the circuit that I want to do. Everything feels good and I’m happy. And we’ll see what we can do from here.”
There’s always the possibility of big silly news of the season – there’s usually an unexpected twist here or there. And there is still one major free agent to know where he will run in 2023.
Martin Truex Jr. explains why he decided to stay with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2023
Martin Truex Jr. on how Joe Gibbs, Sherry Pollex and his recent Championship near misses influenced his decision to stay at JGR for 2023.
Truex’s return was certainly good news for Joe Gibbs Racing, who have yet to sign a sponsor to replace M&M’s for Kyle Busch, who remains without a solid contract for next year until a sponsor deal is agreed. JGR needs to know the sponsorship money he will receive to know what he can pay the two-time Cup champion.
Busch indicated there wouldn’t be many other teams (if any) looking to sign him (obviously his salary demands would play a part). While there is always a possibility that Busch will leave and Truex’s stay could give Busch a little less influence, Busch has a long history with JGR and his truck team is closely aligned with Toyota – which makes that many in the industry expect him to stay with JGR.
JGR wants to keep Ty Gibbs in the Xfinity Series for another year and then bring him to the Cup, which would line up with Truex’s possible retirement after the 2023 season.
Truex wasn’t the only driver to announce his 2023 intentions last week at the Nashville Superspeedway.
On Friday, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. announced he had signed a multi-year extension with JTG Daugherty Racing to stay in the #47 car until at least 2024. The team has yet another question to answer: which manufacturer will race- in 2023? The team’s deal with Chevrolet ends after this year.
“We feel like we have a really good fit and we feel like JTG Daugherty Racing was where we wanted to be,” Stenhouse said of his decision to stay with the team. “I feel really confident in who we have and what we’re doing right now and I want to keep growing to keep that going.
“I don’t want to go from one team to another. I don’t think it’s doing myself or anyone a favor. So I want to build on what we started.”
As long as Busch re-signs with JGR, the best vehicle available is the #10 Stewart-Haas Racing car, which will be released by Aric Almirola after this year.
Ryan Preece, who was signed by Stewart-Haas Racing after last season as a reserve and test driver, would be a contender for this race.
Preece, who won Friday night’s truck race in Nashville, isn’t worried about his future.
“My wife is probably more worried about my future than me,” Preece said. “I tell him all the time, ‘All I can do is go out and do what I’ve always done in my whole career – and that’s try to win races.’
“I’m lucky to have a great support system and a dad who was just teaching me to work really hard and not give up on your dreams. So I might be 31 but in the racing years, you’re not even close to your peak.”
Erik Jones would potentially be a candidate for the SHR race, but he has always said he would like to stay with Petty GMS Racing. He said he wasn’t cleared to talk to other teams yet (drivers’ contracts usually have a specific date when they can start talking to other teams) and said he was on close to finalizing a deal to stay in car #43.
“We’re getting closer – obviously I’ve been in talks with the smaller GMs for about a month I guess at this point and so just kind of wrap things up [going] back and forth about all the little things that make a difference,” Jones said.
“We’re going through this, but I feel like we’re getting closer.”
Daniel Suarezwho picked up his first career win earlier this month at Sonoma, is in talks to stay at Trackhouse Racing and there’s no doubt he won’t be returning.
The big name the industry is talking about is Tyler Reddick, a two-time Xfinity champion who has yet to win the Cup but has shown flashes of genius driving for Richard Childress Racing.
RCR has an option on Reddick for 2023 and obviously wants him back and will exercise the option. That being said, Reddick is on the radar of several teams, who probably wouldn’t hesitate to sign him now even if they have to wait until 2024 to get him.
For him, not returning to the RCR next year would require a bit (or a lot) of negotiation if another team wanted to have him for 2023 instead of 2024.
There aren’t many other openings for the top 30 teams at the moment. Front Row Motorsports always signs its drivers to one-year contracts. Its Camping World Truck Series driver Zane Smith, with three wins, could potentially make the jump to the Cup, but with Michael McDowell sitting 21st in the standings and Todd Gilliland being a rookie, the team may have to make a difficult decision if she wants Smith in Cup.
Thinking out loud
NASCAR is often criticized for starting a race or restarting a race with potential weather conditions in the area and quickly stopping the race due to rain.
That scenario emerged as a possibility on Sunday as NASCAR restarted the Nashville race with 10 laps to go and with potential rain in the area. He had to drive 10 laps cautiously to dry pit road (the cars had been staged on pit road during the rain delay) and to open pit road for pit stops.
If the threatening rain had arrived in the next two laps, NASCAR would have been in a bad spot, getting a race but no real race to the finish.
Instead, the rain never came and NASCAR finished the entire race. It was one of those nights when NASCAR’s policy of getting back to racing when the weather is dry and seeing what happens turned out to be the right move.
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Statistics of the day
Hendrick Motorsports has had six wins this year – no other organization has more than three.
They said it
“These things are hard to find, and you have to take advantage of them. You never know when or if you’ll ever get another one. So super grateful.” — Chase Elliot after his victory
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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