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Martin Truex Jr. was considered by many to be the favorite to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship after a strong finish to the year, including claiming the regular-season title. Surprisingly, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has looked nothing like a champion this postseason, posting a single top-10 finish through the first eight playoff races. 

At Homestead on Sunday, his struggles continued, and the resulting frustrations boiled over on the team radio. Those heated remarks from the 2017 champion raised eyebrows when he unexpectedly raised questions about his racing future.     

Martin Truex Jr. underperforming in playoffs

Martin Truex Jr. closed out the 2023 regular season on a strong note. He recorded six top-10s in the final seven races, including three inside the top five, highlighted by his win at New Hampshire. He was riding a wave of momentum going into the playoffs, which is why so many suggested he was the favorite to bring home his second career Cup title. 

In the postseason, though, the No. 19 car hasn’t come close to resembling the team that won three races earlier in the year. 

In eight playoff races, the JGR driver has scored a lone top-10 at Las Vegas. He’s finished outside the top 15 in every other race, including a pair of DNFs — the most recent at Homestead.   

Martin Truex Jr. expresses frustration with pit crew 

No one will deny that Martin Truex Jr. has been a victim of bad luck during his playoff slump. The perfect example occurred in the second postseason race at Kansas when he blew a tire on the fourth lap. It was later discovered that he had suffered a punctured tire. He finished dead last in 36th.

A couple of races later at Texas, misfortune struck again.

In a bizarre incident, Truex went for a spin after crossing the start-finish line to end the first stage when Erik Jones drove into Brad Keselowski, who then hit the JGR car and sent it for a spin. 

But it hasn’t been all bad luck. At that same race in the Lone Star State, the pit crew, which has had its share of issues throughout the season, struggled on multiple stops. The driver addressed it all after the race.

“So far, nothing has went right at all,” Truex said. “Today, we just didn’t really run good. I thought we were a top-10 car early, and then once we got spun out there and had to drive around with flat tires, I think it messed something up underneath [the car]. Definitely was way tighter after that, and we lost our track position.

“It just piles on when you get back there. Then, on top of that, our pit stops are absolutely horrendous. Nothing really good today at all to speak of other than not getting wrecked. Long, terrible day. We need to fix it.”

Takes frustration to new level and raises question about his future

Despite his poor results, Truex has continued to advance through the playoffs due to the format, which resets after each round and awards drivers the points earned during the season. Coming into the Round of 8, the veteran driver knew his No. 19 team had to perform at a higher level to have any hope of reaching the Championship 4 in Phoenix.

After finishing ninth at Las Vegas in the first race of the semifinal round, the driver was understandably optimistic that things were heading in the right direction. However, that optimism was short-lived. 

At Homestead, the driver was once again victimized by his pit crew on several occasions. Following a second bad pit stop, Truex couldn’t hide his feelings.

“A f******* joke,” he said. After his spotter told him he was clear of pit road, the driver paused, then keyed up his mic for some surprising words. “I ain’t doing this s*** no more.”

Adding more intrigue, these comments came before his car suffered a mechanical failure, the first for the entire JGR organization in 2023, and ended his day early. He finished 29th.

Why he might be reconsidering his future

While it’s easy to dismiss Truex’s remarks because they occurred in the heat of the moment, fans of the 43-year-old can’t help but wonder even though he’s already committed to returning in 2024. 

Rumors have swirled for the last two years that the JGR pilot might be stepping away. This year, he waited longer than last to announce his return. And before he made that announcement, he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio reporter Claire B. Lang after his New Hampshire win that he had always “put racing first” and “at some point it’s time to start enjoying things.” Those things include a boat he had wanted to buy for years but hadn’t because he needed to focus on his career. 

He also said something else interesting to the veteran reporter: “I think the ultimate thing ever would be to win the championship and walk off. I think we can do that this year. I think we can do that next year as well.” 

Truex realizes how hard it is to win a championship. His recent playoff struggles further magnify that understanding. He’s been in the Cup Series for 18 years and has the lone title to his credit. A second would be a fitting end to a Hall of Fame career. 

He may have announced his return in 2024, but the temptation of walking off with a championship might just be too much to resist. If that somehow happens, then looking back at his heated comments during the Homestead race won’t sound so ridiculous after all.

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