It seems like Ryan Truex has been around NASCAR forever. However, 2018 is just his second full season in any of the top three national touring divisions.
Truex, 26, made his XFINITY Series debut in 2010 at Gateway Motorsports Park, finishing 28th for Michael Waltrip Racing. In 2011, he split time between MWR and Joe Gibbs Racing, running half of the schedule and placing a season-high fourth at Richmond Raceway. The next year, 2012 was much of the same, as he ran a partial season between two race teams, though he earned a career-best runner-up finish to Joey Logano at Dover International Speedway.
The future looked bright.
It took five years before Truex got his first full-time gig in NASCAR with Hattori Racing Enterprises in 2017. The No. 16 Camping Wrorld Truck Series team sat on two poles, posted eight top fives and 13 top-10 finishes, narrowly missing the post-season. He impressed a number of people in the garage area, including Kaulig Racing team owner Matt Kaulig.
On January 9, Truex signed a deal to take over the No. 11 XFINITY ride at Kaulig Racing, replacing Blake Koch. For the first time in three years, the New Jersey native was back behind the wheel of a racecar in the top preliminary series of NASCAR.
“I’ve been around for a while, but the biggest thing for me is I know what I’m doing every weekend,” Truex told Frontstretch. “I know my crew chief. I know where my seats are. I know what car I’m going to be in, so I don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. In the past, I didn’t know when I was going to race again. Sometimes, it was a month or two months.”
Through the opening 10 races of the season, Truex has sped off to a fast start, posting four top 10s, including a pair of seventh-place efforts at Daytona and Richmond. During Koch’s opening 10 races with Kaulig Racing in 2016, the team had just two top 10s as a newcomer.
Despite finishing 13th at Texas Motor Speedway, Truex believes it may have been the team’s best weekend of the young season. The No. 11 car qualified on the outside of the front row and earned 15 stage points. In Stage 1, he finished fifth, and in the second stage, he finished just behind stage winner Brandon Jones in second.
“That was an example of us showing up and being close setup wise when we unloaded off the truck, which I think this year is especially important,” he said. “Every weekend, practice is so short. I think it’s going to be huge this year, and that’s where the RCR alliance and having three teammates to lean on has been huge and will continue to be a big deal.”
Outside of a 38th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, Truex has top-15 finishes in the other nine events. Heading into back-to-back off-weekends, he sits eighth in the championship standings, 77 points above Ross Chastain, who is the first driver outside the playoff cutoff.
To say the least, Truex is jelling in nicely with his new team.
“It’s never easy to have a new team, and it’s never easy for a team to have a new driver, especially a young team like this,” Truex said. “It’s only their third year in existence, and it’s the first time they’ve had anyone else in the car. It’s taken a little while to learn each other.”
In 66 prior XFINITY starts coming into this season, Kaulig Racing had 10 top 10s with Koch, splitting 2016 and 2017 with five a piece. Already having four in the opening 10 campaigns of the season, Truex is on pace to finish with more than 10 this year alone.
The aforementioned alliance with Richard Childress Racing has played dividends early this season. Truex admits that he leans on Daniel Hemric often because he’s unfamiliar with how the racecars drive in the XFINITY Series.
“Everything about them has changed; the splitter, spoiler, bodies, everything is different from when I ran them,” he said. “There is less downforce and they drive different.”
Moving forward, Kaulig Racing is looking to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season. In 2016, Koch finished seventh in the standings, and in 2017 he finished in 11th. Truex believes that if the team keeps heading in the right direction, it’s possible they could be a major factor deep into the season.
“I feel like we are well on our way to do that if we just keep being consistent and be there every week, we should have no problem with that,” he said. “I want to get to Homestead and have a shot and win races. I feel like with the RCR alliance and everything we have going on and the direction we’re going, I don’t see why we can’t build to that.
“We run top 10 now, but I think if you can start running in the top five, you can sneak a win out at some point. Once you’re running top five and can do that, you just work your way toward the front. We want to win races, that’s why we are here, and I think I have the group that can do it.”
- This weekend is the first of two consecutive bye weeks for the XFINITY Series. It’s the second time this season that the series has had two off-weekends in a row, but when resuming in Charlotte, the series gets just one off week until after Dover in early October.
- Through the opening 10 races of the season, JR Motorsports has led the way. Elliott Sadler is the championship leader, while Justin Allgaier sits second, and won this past weekend at Dover. Daytona winner and JRM driver Tyler Reddick is third in the standings, with Christopher Bell and Daniel Hemric rounding out the top five.
- XFINITY regulars have led 1,094 of 1,921 laps of competition this season (56.9 percent), even though Cup drivers missed the past four races. Allgaier leads the series with 276 laps led, with Kyle Larson having the second highest (203), while competing in just two races.