NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. announces his retirement at the end of the current 2024 season and leaving out very young, at just 43 years old

Martin Truex Jr. announces retirement: Dissecting the one-of-a-kind career of NASCAR’s unlikeliest legend
from Ryan McCafferty, with

Martin Truex Jr. has made it official: He will be stepping away from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition at the conclusion of the 2024 season.

“I’m obviously here to let y’all know that I won’t be back full-time next year,” Truex said Friday a day after rumors of his retirement emerged, per “It’s been incredible. It’s been a hell of a ride. I’m excited about the future, and I’m not really sure what that looks like yet.

“It’s the right time for me. I’ve thought about it a lot for the last few seasons — just waited for that feeling in my mind to be positive, like ‘This is OK, I’m good, and I want to do something else. In the 21 years that I’ve done this, I’ve never missed a race. I’ve never missed a practice. I’ve never been late for anything. I’ve never missed an appearance. You live your life by a schedule that somebody makes for you, and it’s just time for me to make my own schedule.”

Truex, currently fifth in Cup points, has amassed 34 career wins in 19 full seasons at the top level while also notably winning the 2017 series championship. He has done this despite only two of those wins occurring in his first nine seasons, by which point he had yet to score a single top-10 points finish.

It’s perhaps the most unlikely career arc that NASCAR has ever seen, and it’s even unlikelier when you remember how it happened.

During those first nine seasons, Truex was stuck with dysfunctional race teams in Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing, the latter of which was forced to shut down his No. 56 car when sponsor NAPA left following MWR’s infamous “Spingate” race manipulation scandal at Richmond Raceway in 2013. That left Truex without a ride for the following year, and he took his lumps by signing with small-budget Furniture Row Racing.

What seemed like the death knell for Truex’s career at the time instead ended up being the best thing to ever happen to him. His first season with Furniture Row didn’t go so well, finishing a career-worst 24th in points, but then with new crew chief Cole Pearn atop his pit box in 2015, he turned it around and experienced his best campaign to that point, making it all the way to the championship round of the playoffs.

Furniture Row switched manufacturers to Toyota the following season and formed a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, and that’s when Truex became a bonafide superstar. With three career wins at the conclusion of 2015, he doubled that total with four more in 2016 and then did so again in 2017, when he found Victory Lane eight times en route to bringing the Little Team That Could all the way to the top.

Truex’s 2017 title campaign was perhaps the most dominant run of the 2010s decade, with 19 top-fives, 26 top-10s and a whopping 2,253 laps led in addition to those eight wins, and it became easy to forget just how much adversity driver and team had overcome to get there. The NASCAR world was quickly reminded the following year, though, as Furniture Row — still struggling to break even at the bank despite the team’s unprecedented success — was forced to close its operations at the conclusion of 2018.

So Truex and Pearn moved in-house to Gibbs’ No. 19 machin, and experienced another huge season in 2019 with a series-high seven wins. At this point, Truex was no longer a feel-good story, and people had become fatigued with his success. A narrative had emerged that his unconventional rise could be largely explained by Pearn rather than his own talents.

Then Pearn unexpectedly stepped away, leaving Truex with another first-time crew chief in James Small. In the four-and-a-half years since, he hasn’t been quite the juggernaut he was with Pearn, but he has still won eight times and led nearly 4,000 laps (averaging to about 800 per year) — proving he has always belonged among NASCAR’s elites.

All in all, Truex is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, sitting among or near the top-20 drivers of all time in every relevant statistic. Again, this is despite spending nearly a decade looking like barely even a top-20 driver of his own time, and then losing his ride as a victim of one of NASCAR’s darkest nights in recent memory.

Truex’s career will go down as a case of a supremely talented driver who simply needed the right opportunity to show it, and he found it in the unlikeliest of places at the unlikeliest of times. What seemed to be the end for him turned out to be the beginning of an illustrious legacy — and one he’ll have the chance to close out on a high note as he hangs up his helmet still well within his prime.