Fewer than three months after coming up just short in his bid to win a second NASCAR Cup championship, Martin Truex Jr. goes back to work this weekend.
A new season begins Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Qualifying for the Feb. 16 season-opening Daytona 500 begins at noon (Fox), and the Busch Clash exhibition race is set for 3 p.m. (Fox Sports 1).
“Everyone is excited to get back to the track and get going with the new season,” Truex said in a statement from Joe Gibbs Racing, the team for which he drives the No. 19 Toyota Camry.
Truex, a 1998 Southern Regional High School graduate who grew up in the Mayetta section of Stafford Township, finished second to Kyle Busch in November in the season-ending championship race in Miami. A crew member’s mistake — a left-side tire was put on the right side during a pit stop — while he was winning the race severely damaged his chances of adding another championship to the one he won in 2017.
Shortly after the season, Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, announced he was leaving the sport to spend more time with his family. James Small, already a member of the No. 19 team at Gibbs, was picked to replace Pearn.
Small, 36, from Australia, has been part of the Truex team for three seasons, going back to their time at since-shuttered Furniture Row Racing. In 2019, Small was the lead engineer for Truex in a season in which he won seven races, had 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s.
“This weekend will be a great opportunity for us to get rolling with the Clash to get a race under our belts and start working out that communication between me and James,” the 39-year-old Truex said. “I’m looking forward to getting back in the car and see what we can do. The Clash is always a tossup and will be a pretty wild race like always, but it’s a good way to start the season, with a shorter race to kick off Speedweeks.”
Truex has competed eight times in the Clash. He finished second in 2015, one of his two top-10 finishes in the event. Last year, he finished 15th after his car was knocked out early due to a multicar wreck.
But more important than the exhibition race will be the Daytona 500 qualifying that precedes it. Sunday’s session will fill only the first two spots in NASCAR’s most prestigious race. Truex twice has earned a front-row starting position. In 2009, he started on the pole, and in 2015 he was on the outside of the front row.
Starting positions 3 through 40 for The Great American Race will be determined in two 150-mile qualifying races Thursday.
Numbers and notes
In Truex’s Cup career, he has won 26 races in 513 starts. He has 102 top-five finishes and 205 top-10s. He has won 19 pole positions and led 8,906 laps. ... SiriusXM will be the primary sponsor of Truex’s car for the Busch Clash. The audio entertainment company will be the primary sponsor of the No. 19 car for five races this year. ... Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have earned eight Busch Clash victories: Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin (three times each), Matt Kenseth and Busch (one each).