After years of failing to find the right full-time fit, Ryan Truex finally found stability in his NASCAR career two years ago. A season-long opportunity came in 2017 with Hattori Racing Enterprises in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and 2018 was spent chasing a NASCAR Xfinity Series title with Kaulig Racing.
Come 2019, that stability was obsolete.
Truex, 27, has been put through the NASCAR ringer over the past decade. The New Jersey native has run with the likes of the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut and, at times, start-and-parked for small organizations who have since vanished from the sport.
In the first half of the 2019 NASCAR season, Truex has two Xfinity starts for JR Motorsports, finishing runner-up to Kyle Busch in March at ISM Raceway and most recently crossing the finish line eighth at Kentucky Speedway. Ultimately, he’s making the most of his limited opportunities in the No. 8 Chevrolet, though Truex said it’s difficult hopping in and out of the car every few months.
“It’s not just hard on me, it’s hard on the team, too,” Truex told Frontstretch. “They have like eight different drivers in this thing this year. Every driver has a different way of explaining what their car is doing.
“I feel like we got lucky at Phoenix where everything fell perfectly. It’s tough for everybody, and when you’re racing against guys like [Cole] Custer and [Christopher] Bell, guys who are now in their second year of being in good equipment and having good people around them and have been building those relationships, you can’t replace that — week-in, week-out, being in the car, growing as a group, with anything, really.”
Being one of the top Xfinity organizations, JRM is having an average season. Michael Annett won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, while Justin Allgaier has been bitten by bad luck and Noah Gragson is still learning as a rookie driver. Because of the success JRM has shown — winning the past two championships — Truex believes running the No. 8 is the biggest opportunity of his career, though it does come with added pressure.
“I’ve never doubted that I can go out here and win races,” Truex added. “I’ve come close in Trucks and I’ve come close in Xfinity, one spot away in both more than once. I know I can do it and I believe in myself. It’s definitely been tough and I’ve been close to having the perfect situation and having everything align. A lot of times, I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me, whether it’s a sponsorship issue or something else out of my control that’s kind of blindsided me.
“A lot of these years, I’ve had deals that I thought were close to run full-time the next year, and come October, November, they would fall apart and I’m kind of chasing my tail and having to go find something to do to keep my name relevant and stay relevant. I thought that was going to be the case again this year, but I got lucky enough that JRM had the [No.] 8 car open and they are willing to let me come run some races for them.”
With the pair of top-10 finishes, Truex admits confidence isn’t an issue with him. It never has been. But finishing well in the part-time starts allows the driver to build for the next race, even with all the challenges it presents.
“Phoenix was huge for me,” Truex stated. “Another thing that’s tough to balance is you want to go out there and give it your all, not leave anything on the track. But when you race six times a year, you can’t go out there and wreck the car either. That’s another thing that running full time enables you to do.”
While Truex has been on the sidelines this season, he’s used the stories of Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain as motivation. In 2017, Preece borrowed a loan from a bank to get a two-race deal in the Xfinity Series at Joe Gibbs Racing. In those races, he finished first and second respectively. The success led to two more races and two more top-five finishes.
Chastain, on the other hand, has been outrunning where his equipment should be finishing for years in all three national touring divisions, which led to a three-race opportunity last season with Chip Ganassi Racing. In those three races, he had two top-two finishes, while winning the pole and leading the most laps at Darlington Raceway.
This year, Truex is betting on himself, believing his talent can get the job done behind the wheel and hoping a full-time opportunity comes along for 2020.
“Just that I can compete with all of these guys and given the right opportunity with the right people around me,” Truex said of what he’s trying to prove. “This sport isn’t easy. I think my brother [Martin Truex Jr.] has shown more than anybody, that if you don’t have the right group, if you don’t have the right timing — it takes everything aligning perfectly.
“I felt like this was my best opportunity in a while to align myself with a team that I feel like I can show up to the track and have the equipment and have the ability to win. I think it’s been a bit of a learning curve this year. It’s to prove that I can do this, and hopefully, the stars align this year that I can do that.”
But being away from the track on a consistent basis has been tough for Truex.
“I go to races if I can. I do everything I can to study and watch races,” Truex said. “I have a go kart that I’ll go take to the track just so I can stay fresh. I do everything I can out of the car aside from drive it. At the same time, behind the scenes, we’re trying to put sponsorship together and trying to put a program together so that we can run full time.”
Originally, last weekend’s race at Kentucky and this weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway weren’t on Truex’s schedule. Following the race at New Hampshire, he’ll run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 14), the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL (Sept. 28) and Kansas Speedway (Oct. 19).
Winning would be nice, but Truex wants to prove he can get the job done in top-tier equipment.
“The ultimate goal is to win races,” Truex said. “Aside from that, I want to do everything I can to not make mistakes and do everything right and keep my equipment clean. Even if I can go out and run top five in every race, I think that proves a point.”
- There are 41 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s ROXOR 200 at New Hampshire. Paul Menard will make his second start of the season for Team Penske, and Alex Labbe makes his fourth for DGM Racing. After making one Truck start earlier this year, CJ McLaughlin will make his Xfinity debut for RSS Racing.
- Kaulig Racing announced AJ Allmendinger will run at Watkins Glen International (Aug. 3) in the No. 10 Chevrolet. Allmendinger will also be in the car at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 10), Road America (August 24) and the Charlotte ROVAL.
- Adam Brenner, crew chief at Brandonbilt Motorsports, announced on his Facebook page that he’s resigned from the team. No replacement has been announced, but it’s likely Brian Keselowski will lead the charge, as he recently joined the team after leaving MBM Motorsports earlier this month.