● Truex and the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) set the tone for the season right out of the gate by winning 150-lap feature in the non-points Clash at the Coliseum on Feb. 5. Truex won his heat race, then went on to lead the final 25 laps of the feature en route to a victory that gives him and the team much-needed momentum heading toward Sunday’s regular-season-opening Daytona 500.
● This year marks Truex’s 19th career start in The Great American Race. His first Daytona 500 came 19 years ago on Feb. 20, 2005. He started 10th in that race and finished 34th after engine issues sidelined him with just 22 laps remaining.
● While Truex has been ever so close on more than one occasion, the Bass Pro Shops driver is still looking for his first Daytona 500 victory. In the 2016 Daytona 500, Truex was involved in the closest finish in the history of the race when he battled JGR teammate Denny Hamlin to the checkered flag, narrowly missing out on the victory by a scant .01 of a second. It was one of the most memorable photo finishes in the race’s 64-year history.
● To earn a spot in this year’s Daytona 500, drivers must first compete in the Bluegreen Vacations Duel – twin 150-mile qualifying races that set the 40-car field for the Daytona 500. In all, Truex has three top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 18 career Duel starts.
● Before drivers compete in the Duel, they race the clock in single-lap qualifying. The two fastest cars are locked into the field while the rest of the drivers are split into the Duel. Qualifiers in odd-numbered positions are in the first Duel and qualifiers in even-numbered positions are in the second Duel. Truex has one Daytona 500 pole to his credit, coming in 2009 for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.
● The 2023 season marks Truex’s 19th in the NASCAR Cup Series. Of his 621 career, points-paying starts, 35 of them have come on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval. In addition to the aforementioned runner-up finish in 2016, Truex has another runner-up finish at Daytona coming in July 2009. He has three top-fives and six top-10s on the Daytona oval. The 65th Daytona 500 will be his 36th points-paying start on the Daytona oval.
● Outside of the NASCAR Cup Series, Truex has made seven career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Daytona. Of Truex’s 13 career Xfinity Series wins, only one is at Daytona – coming in July 2005. Truex is a two-time Xfinity Series champion (2004 and 2005) to go with his 2017 Cup Series championship.
You finished in the top-five in the regular-season points last year but weren’t able score a victory to qualify for the playoffs. What are your expectations for 2023?
“At the end of the day, we didn’t achieve what we wanted to last year. We are excited to go back out and get an opportunity to compete again and show what we can do. I think the Clash certainly reminded everyone what we are capable of as a team. We have a great team and a great opportunity this year to do some great things and hopefully get back into that championship conversation. I feel really good about things right now and where we are as a team and what we were able to learn last year. It’s definitely good to get behind us a full season with the new car and all those question marks. I definitely know what we need, but if we can figure out a few more things here or there, I definitely think we can be really strong with our Bass Pro Shops Toyota.”
Did superspeedway racing change with the NextGen car last year?
“I think superspeedways probably haven’t changed much as opposed to some of the other types of tracks. Just the way you can bump draft with this car is totally different than the previous-generation cars. I think right now there are a lot more options as far as what lanes work. It used to be that you never wanted anyone on the outside, and now you can pass guys on the bottom a bit easier and that sets up some other opportunities. I feel like the racing has been fun on superspeedways, but you have to be really aggressive, as well.”
What makes the Duel qualifying races at Daytona so nerve-wracking for you guys?
“The Duel is kind of a nervous time for the drivers, and the crew chiefs, especially. You want to get through that race and you really want to be able to race that car in the Daytona 500. You also want to finish close to the front so you can get a good starting spot. You want to manage the race and be careful how hard you want to push it and make sure you don’t put yourself in a spot so you don’t end up wrecked and have to go to a backup car for the 500.”
Now that you have a full year of the NextGen car under your belt, how different is it, and what else can you learn?
“You know, it’s still a racecar. It has four tires, gas pedal, brake pedal, steering wheel, shifter. You get to learn how to drive it and learn what it wants. I feel like we’ve done that. I know what I need in it now. I think from the Toyota side of things that we were lacking in some areas last year. NASCAR changed some rules and I feel like we are all closer together now. I think that’s going to be plus for us because we were lacking a lot at the short tracks and road courses, to be specific. A lot of good things for us on paper, but you’ve got to see what happens on the track. Last year, I felt comfortable in the car in just a few weeks, and then it was all about how we apply it, and we have a great team that works hard on figuring all of that out.”
The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest race of the year. With this year being NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, was there a Daytona 500 you watched when you were younger, before you were a competitor, that sticks out in your mind?
“When Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in 1998 was one I remember the most. I was a fan of his growing up, so I watched a lot of those heartbreaking finishes prior to that where he led and something would happen, have a flat tire, hit a seagull, whatever would happen. To be able to see him finally win, and how many of his peers on pit road came out to congratulate him because everyone knew how much that race meant to him, to his career, and to the sport.”
There will be several drivers not locked into the Daytona 500 who have to race their way in during the Duel. Do you remember having to do the same thing your first few years in the sport?
“It was 2005 and I was still a fulltime Busch Series driver at the time. I just remember the stress of trying to make the race. I was not locked in on points and I had to race my way in during the Duel. I think I finished fourth in our Duel to make it, but it was a stressful day. The pressure was on myself and the team to make sure we had a good enough finish to get into the race. That was definitely my first experience of having nerves trying to make the biggest race of the year.”
Daytona has so much build-up. What’s it like heading out to the grid and getting ready to run in the Daytona 500?
“It’s like you exhale and finally say it’s time to do this, it’s no more talking so let’s get it done. You get into the car and everything gets back into focus and you know what you have to work on. The racing itself is just incredible. You never know what’s going to happen, especially when you get down to the end. Guys are all going for it and putting it all on the line and it’s always exciting for the fans.”
What are races like at Daytona?
“Daytona is a wide-open crapshoot. Everyone holds it wide open. You get down to the end of the race and we’ve seen the crashes over and over on the green-white-checkereds. Everyone just holds it wide open and, if they have any momentum at all, they just try to drive through the guy in front of them and it spins him out and crashes him. It’s really just a wild card, it’s kind of crazy. I wouldn’t say I’m not unconformable there, but it kind of stinks to get down to the end, if you make it that far, to just get crashed at the end.”
True Speed Communication on behalf of Joe Gibbs Racing