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Martin Truex Jr.'s Frustration on Display in Behind-the-Scenes Audio from Richmond

A strategic tire issue quickly spun out of control, leading to a heated, expletive-laden exchange between Truex Jr. and his crew chief James Small.      

By Andrew Woodin
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, reacts after the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400

In NASCAR’s Cup Series, the margins between success and chaos are already razor thin, but such a minuscule window is made even narrower on a short track like that of the Richmond Raceway where drivers can top out at 130 mph, a blistering pace considering it's a 0.750-mile course. That’s why even a semi-scuffed set of tires that was only used for seven laps earlier in the race can annihilate a driver’s shot at victory, as Martin Truex Jr. experienced at the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond over the weekend.

What happened to Martin Truex Jr. at Richmond International Speedway?

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Piloting the No. 19 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex Jr. seemed to be in a good spot during Sunday’s race, leading for 56 laps, but that would all change after Tyler Reddick spun out on Lap 372 to bring out a caution flag. The field made its final round of pit stops, providing all contenders with new Goodyear Eagle tires – all except for Truex Jr., and his team, which is helmed by crew chief James Small. Unfortunately for the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing, a depleted tire arsenal left Truex Jr. with the severe disadvantage of having to utilize a set of scuffed tires, rendering his chances of victory obsolete. That became increasingly apparent as Truex Jr. – a three-time winner at Richmond International Speedway – continued to tumble down the leaderboard in the final 14 laps, ultimately finishing in 11th place.

Did Martin Truex Jr. know he was in trouble with compromised tires?

For those who say seeing is believing, how about hearing? During one point during the final 14-lap run, Truex Jr.’s No. 19 Toyota seemed to pull back, leading to a terse exchange over the radio between an infuriated Truex Jr. and his apologetic crew chief James Small who shouldered the blame as best as he could, clearly disappointed in the team’s strategic downfall. Here’s how the full exchange unfolded over the team’s radios, according to video uploaded to NASCAR's official YouTube channel.

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“What a f****** nightmare,” Truex Jr. lamented.

“I know it,” Small replied. “Just survive here.”

“My tires are flat!” No. 19 exclaimed.

“Sorry, we f****** hosed ourselves,” Small responded. “We were f****** out of tires. We had that seven-lap scuffs there, so we were f*****.”

“Don’t understand what you just said, but that was pitiful,” groaned Truex Jr.

Noticeably upset from how the late-race scenario unfolded, Small’s tone shifted dramatically as he tried to clarify to his driver what happened through an even more heated exchange.

“Had f****** scuffed tires on there because we hosed ourselves taking a set in stage one,” Small stated. “So, we were f***** regardless. Sorry. We f***** up.”

“You didn’t tell me you put scuffs on, so I didn’t know what the f*** was wrong, okay? Jesus.”

“There’s no point in telling you. We were f***** either way.”

How does the Richmond debacle affect Martin Truex Jr. in the Cup Series, moving forward?

While Truex Jr. took home the checkered flag at the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles in February – an exhibition race – he currently resides in ninth place in the points table with his one top-10 finish coming at Las Vegas, where he finished seventh. Considering he missed the 2022 playoffs and is now languishing through a 51-race winless drought, Truex Jr. desperately needs to curb the in-race mishaps like the one he endured in Richmond if he hopes to right the ship.

Small has helped guide Truex Jr. in the No. 19 Toyota to five wins since becoming the wheelman’s leader in the pit box in 2020. While owning one’s part is critical to reinstalling confidence throughout the team, overcoming hardships on the track will only become more difficult if Truex Jr.’s winless streak continues to balloon over the season. That said, the driver-crew chief duo at Joe Gibbs Racing did nab four of their five victories in 2021, so there is a track record for success there. The key is consistency, and, like all enterprises, it starts with everyone being on the same page and communicating effectively.

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