Jason Overstreet has seen NASCAR drivers struggle with the transition from cars to trucks in a decade of working as a crew chief. Some drivers need a few races to adapt, while others never get it right.
Ryan Truex was fast almost immediately.
Truex, a Stafford Township native, raced in the NASCAR Trucks Series for the first time last month at Martinsville Speedway, and he heads to Friday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway hoping to run up front.
“He adapted really fast at Martinsville,” Overstreet, Truex’s crew chief with Hillman Racing, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “You would have never thought it was his first truck race at all.”
Truex, 20, won back-to-back NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championships before racing in a limited Nationwide Series schedule the past two seasons. Both of those series use stock cars similar to the ones in the Sprint Cup Series.
In Truex’s first Trucks Series race, he drove from 27th place up to the top 10 before his transmission failed, and he did not finish the race. He said he “easily could have had a top-five” if not for the mechanical failure.
When Truex got to the garage, team owner Mike Hillman intercepted him as soon as he stepped out of the truck.
“He said he’ll find a way to get us to Phoenix and make it up to me,” Truex said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Overstreet said the truck was good enough before the transmission problem that he’s optimistic about this week.
“I left there satisfied knowing that we had speed and we were fast, and that we can just get our mechanical stuff out of the way and go to Phoenix with a shot to run real good,” Overstreet said.
The run at Martinsville came after only a few hours of testing. Truex said the biggest adjustment is the truck’s bigger body, but mostly it’s “just another racecar.”
Overstreet said their truck was poor when they started practice at Martinsville, but he and Truex worked together to improve it quickly.
“That’s where I was really most impressed: The progression we made, just in a couple hours of practice,” said Overstreet, who has worked with drivers such as David Reutimann and Johnny Sauter. “He’s very precise in what he feels and what he needs, which is good. You don’t find that a lot.”
Truex won’t be done after Phoenix. He will drive in both the Trucks and Nationwide races the final weekend of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He still is working to get a full-time Nationwide ride for next season.
“There’s a lot of talks and things going on behind the scenes,” Truex said. “I’ve been really close this year to winning. I know I’m ready to go Nationwide full-time, and I know I can win a championship and win races.”
A strong run in the Trucks race at Phoenix likely would help attract the sponsors necessary for a full-time Nationwide ride.
“Ryan’s just a racer,” Overstreet said. “He’s just a true talent that it doesn’t really matter what you put him in. He’s going to go fast.”
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