Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks
Shigeaki Hattori walked on pit road moments after the checkered flag waved at Dover International Speedway. The former racecar driver turned owner ventured into the Camping World Truck Series in 2013, followed by a stint in the XFINITY Series.
Driving Hattori’s truck is Ryan Truex, the younger brother of Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex, Jr. The younger Truex dipped his feet into NASCAR’s premier division as well, competing for BK Racing in 2014 after a three-race stretch with the newly formed HScott Motorsports (purchased by Harry Scott, Jr. from James Finch) in 2013.
When the opportunity came for Truex to tighten his belts once again, he could not decline.
Hattori, who has been fielding K&N Pro Series East cars for several years, has shifted his focus to the Truck Series. The No. 81 Toyota has entered each of the five events this season, a major jump from running just two contests last year at Martinsville and Homestead (DNQ’d) with Ross Kenseth.
Through the first five races of the Truck Series season, Hattori Racing Enterprises has been able to gather funding for each race. Some deals have been last minute. Others have not. A car without colors is usually indicative of a team’s struggles to find sponsorship dollars, and that was the case at Martinsville. Well, at least until a handful of sponsors combined to put their logos on Truex’s truck, including backing from Toyota Osaka Parts Distribution.
Starting with a runner-up finish at Daytona in the season-opener, Truex began to pile up the points. After finishing 20th at Atlanta and 12th at Martinsville, the No. 81 team is on the upswing.
Truex jumped to third in the championship standings after a sixth-place finish at Kansas.
Following Kansas, Truex headed to his hometrack of Dover with hopes of recapturing the magic he saw in 2012, when he nearly won driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 car in the XFINITY (then Nationwide) Series. He led 43 laps that day, which remains the only event in the XFINITY Series that he has led under green-flag conditions.
When the green flag waved on Friday, Truex started 18th after qualifying was rained out. Steadily moving through the field, the No. 81 truck was in 11th by the halfway mark. Shortly thereafter, he entered the top 10, coming home in eighth, the team’s third top 10 in five starts.
Truex now sits fourth in the standings, six points behind points leader and two-time champion Matt Crafton.
Entering Friday afternoon’s Jacob Companies 200, the No. 81 team faced a future of uncertainty. While Truex’s performance has been up to par with that of teams with funding entering the million-dollar range, Hattori’s group has failed to secure funding for the full season.
“It feels good,” Truex told Frontstretch while soaked in sweat after the 200-lap event. “Consistency pays off. Hard work pays off. This team shows that more than anything. When you look at the run down, you got KBM, GMS and BKR. We’re right in between two BKR trucks. You’ve got powerhouse teams in the top 10, plus us. It says a lot about this team and how hard they work.
“I drove my heart out. I do every weekend. In this Truck Series, you have a lot of young guys that make a lot of mistakes. That’s where you can really capitalize. If you can keep your truck out of trouble, you can see some of these guys are really torn up. They’re just trying to do too much too early. You have to be patient and be there at the end, and that’s what we did.”
— Ryan Truex (@Ryan_Truex) May 13, 2016
It is unknown how many races the No. 81 team needs to sell, but Truex believes that his truck will be at every race. It would be a first for a Hattori crew that has never traveled more than the entire K&N Pro Series East schedule.
“I said on the radio when we were coming in that we’ve gotten to the point where we can run in the top 10 every week,” Truex explained. “We’re knocking on the door of top 5s. When you’ve got a truck that can run second or third and put a perfect race together, there is a good chance you are going to win. I feel like we are knocking on the door of top 5s, and once we get there, that is when we can start knocking on the door of wins.
“We’re still working on it. We don’t have it fully-funded yet. We’re working hard everyday. We have a lot of races sold, but we have a few that we still need to fill out. If we can get those deals together, we can get this train rolling.