Martin Truex Jr. decision sets stage for 2023 silly season
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
His decision last week to return to Joe Gibbs Racing for at least one more season took an elite open ride 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 that before. I've always just did what I was doing. And I just wanted to make sure if I keep going that I'm going to be happy with that decision.
"And I’ve got the opportunity to do the things on the racetrack that I want to do. It all feels great, and I’m happy. And we’ll see what we can do from here."
There still is the possibility for big silly season news; there tends to be an unexpected twist here or there. And there is one major free agent still left to determine where he will race in 2023.
Truex’s return certainly was good news for Joe Gibbs Racing, which still has to sign a sponsor to replace M&M’s for Kyle Busch, who remains without a solid deal for next year until a sponsorship is completed. JGR needs to know the sponsorship money it will receive to know what it can pay the two-time Cup champion.
Busch has indicated that he wouldn’t have many (if any) other teams looking to sign him (obviously, his salary demands would play a role). While there always is a possibility of Busch leaving, and Truex staying might give Busch a little less leverage, Busch has a long history with JGR, and his truck team is closely aligned with Toyota, so many in the industry expect him to remain at JGR.
JGR wants to keep Ty Gibbs in the Xfinity Series for one more year and then bring him to Cup, which would align with Truex possibly retiring after the 2023 season.
And Truex wasn’t the only driver to announce his 2023 intentions last week at Nashville Superspeedway.
On Friday, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. announced that he had signed a multiyear extension with JTG Daugherty Racing to remain in the No. 47 car at least through 2024. The team still has one other question to answer: Which manufacturer will it run in 2023? The team’s deal with Chevrolet ends after this year.
"We feel like we have a really good fit and felt 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 want to continue to grow [and] keep that going.
"I don’t want to bounce around from team to team. I don’t think that does myself or anybody really any favors. So I want to build on what we've started."
As long as Busch re-signs at JGR, the top ride available is the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 car, which will be vacated by Aric Almirola after this year.
Ryan Preece, who was signed by Stewart-Haas Racing after last season as a reserve and testing driver, would be a candidate for that ride. Preece, who won the truck race Friday at Nashville, said he isn’t stressing about his future.
"My wife probably does more worrying about my future than I do," Preece said. "I tell her all the time, ‘All I can do is go out and do what I've always done in my entire career — and that's try to win races.’
"I'm lucky to have a great support system and a father who's been nothing but teach me to work really hard and to not quit on your dreams. So I might be 31, but in racing years, you're not even close to your peak."
Erik Jones could be a candidate for the SHR ride, but he has consistently said he would like to remain at Petty GMS Racing. He said he is not allowed to talk to other teams yet (driver contracts typically have a specified date at which they can start talking to other teams) and said he was close to finalizing a deal to remain in the No. 43 car.
"We're getting close — obviously, I've been in talks with Petty GMs now for about a month, I guess, at this point and so just kind of finishing things up [going] back and forth on all the little stuff that makes a difference," Jones said.
"We’re going through that, but I feel like we're getting close."
Daniel Suárez, who earned his first career victory earlier this month at Sonoma, is in talks to remain at Trackhouse Racing, and there is little doubt that he won’t return.
The big name the industry is talking about is Tyler Reddick, a two-time Xfinity champion who has yet to win in Cup but has shown flashes of brilliance driving for Richard Childress Racing.
RCR has an option on Reddick for 2023 and obviously wants him back and will exercise the option. That said, Reddick is on the radar of several teams, who likely wouldn’t hesitate to sign him now, even if they have to wait until 2024 to get him. For him not to return to RCR next year would take some (or a lot) of negotiation if another team wants to get him for 2023 as opposed to 2024.
At the moment, there aren’t many other openings for top-30 teams. Front Row Motorsports always signs its drivers to one-year deals. Its Camping World Truck Series driver Zane Smith, with three victories, could make the jump to Cup, but with Michael McDowell sitting 21st in the standings and Todd Gilliland being a rookie, the team might have to make a hard decision if it wants Smith in Cup.
Thinking out loud
NASCAR often gets criticized for starting a race or restarting a race with potential weather in the area and having the race quickly stopped because of rain.
That scenario appeared possible Sunday, as NASCAR restarted the Nashville race 10 laps from halfway with potential rain in the area. It had to run 10 laps under caution to get pit road dry (the cars had been staged on pit road during the rain delay) and to open pit road for pit stops.
If the rain that threatened had come in the next couple of laps, NASCAR would have been in a bad situation, getting a race in with no real race to the finish.
Instead, the rain never came, and NASCAR completed the entire race. This was one of those nights when NASCAR’s policy of resuming the race when it is dry and seeing what happens turned out to be the right move.
Stat of the day
Hendrick Motorsports has six wins this year. No other organization has more than three.
They said it
"These things are hard to come by, and you have to enjoy them. You never know when or if ever you will get another one. So super thankful." — Chase Elliott after his win
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following 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!