LOUDON, N.H. – Martin Truex Jr. stood with his back to a table where hours earlier Kevin Harvick had been gifted a colonial musket from New Hampshire Motor Speedway in honor of the driver’s final race at the track.
Harvick made his retirement call ahead of the Daytona 500 and has been feted with gifts and tributes throughout his last NASCAR season.
The 43-year-old Truex has yet to make a decision -- at least, publicly -- on if he’ll return for another season at Joe Gibbs Racing or hang up the helmet and end a career that included the 2017 NASCAR championship.
Truex has floated retirement before, only to be coaxed back to return for another year in the No. 19 Toyota. Truex is having fun again at the track and has two wins after he missed the playoffs last season.
Truex cracked “next question” when asked Saturday about retirement but conceded an announcement must be made soon, maybe even this week.
Is that his timeline or JGR’s? JGR would need to make crucial decisions on the driver, sponsorship and potentially a new team to put in place for 2024 should Truex retire.
“Probably more so their timeline than mine,” Truex said.
Truex announced last June that he would return for a 19th season, so discussions for a potential replacement never got far with team owner Joe Gibbs. Without a top-tier free agent available at the end of this season, the team would likely look to Xfinity Series drivers John Hunter Nemechek or Sammy Smith to complete the four-car group. The team promoted Ty Gibbs this season to take Kyle Busch’s spot after he left to drive for Richard Childress.
Truex understood the clock was ticking.
“I think about it a lot during the week but not at the racetrack,” Truex said. “That’s why I don’t really talk about it much. I haven’t made a decision yet, so no need to talk about it.”
He opened the season with a win in the exhibition Busch Light Clash and has since won at Dover and Sonoma. Truex did everything but win last season, which was his downfall. He ran inside the top-10 in the standings through the entire regular season, only to miss a spot in the playoffs because NASCAR had a record-tying 19 different winners last season.
Truex is primed to end this season in championship contention -- and maybe go out a winner.
RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY
With heavy rain in the forecast, New Hampshire could mark the third straight race shortened by weather.
William Byron won last week at Atlanta in a race sliced by 75 laps. Shane van Gisbergen won his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Chicago in a race called because of fading sunlight.
“I think if we start a race in the rain, we need to have a time limit or something,” 2014 NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick said. “The rain laps are so much slower and it just winds up taking all day.”
Aric Almirola won a 2021 race at New Hampshire delayed by rain and shortened by eight laps because of darkness. The idea is always to finish the race on Sunday, even if at a few less miles than promised.
“I think you kind of saw maybe a little bit of rain factor last week in the racing at Atlanta, where guys were really pushing because they knew the rain was coming so they wanted to be up front, so the aggression was high,” two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch said. “But besides that, race distance, race length, I think if you can find a happy spot with a TV window, then just stick to that.”
MELON SMASH, BEER BASH
Ross Chastain celebrates each victory with a watermelon smash, in tribute to his family watermelon farm in Florida. He can crush some beers, too, now that Busch Light will serve as his primary sponsor starting next season.
Chastain already attended beer school and learned it’s much tastier to drink a cold beer out of a pint glass rather than the can.
Anheuser-Busch and Trackhouse Racing announced a multiyear agreement that connects one of NASCAR’s four premier partners with one of Cup’s most polarizing drivers. Chastain developed an aggressive driving style that repeatedly rubbed other drivers the wrong way.
Might be a pretty good fit for a race day beer-drinking fan.
Busch Light has been a sponsor in NASCAR for 44 years, investing not only in race teams but also lending its name to the Busch Pole Award and the Busch Light Clash. The brand has sponsored the No. 4 car of Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing since 2016.
Harvick, of course, was featured in many Busch Light commercials and other advertising spots. Chastain said he’s not yet used to the glare of the promotional appearances ahead for him.
“It’s going to be things that I’m not probably totally comfortable with, things that I’ve not experienced before,” he said. “As long as we believe in each other, it’s going to be a great partnership.”
Ryan Preece, from Berlin, Connecticut, grew up going to New Hampshire with his father and grandfather and later had success at the track racing modified stock cars. He's a local fan favorite and hopes to expand his reach on “ Thursday Night Thunder.”
Preece, who has yet to record a top-10 finish this season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, was a late add to next week’s SRX all-star series race in Connecticut. Preece was a track regular at Stafford Speedway before his NASCAR career took off and he was thrilled to compete against a lineup that included Hailie Deegan, Brad Keselowski and Marco Andretti.
“It’s a great opportunity for the hometown fans to see a hometown guy go against them,” Preece said.
ODDS AND ENDS
Kyle Larson is the betting favorite to win Sunday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. ... 2021 Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell topped the lone practice session with a lap of 126.416 mph. Martin Truex Jr. had the best 10-lap average at 125.495 mph. ... Kyle Busch will start at the back of the field after a crash in qualifying.