Stafford Township’s Ryan Truex drives his No. 83 Toyota during practice last week at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Truex was unable to qualify for today’s Daytona 500 but has a full-time ride.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Ryan Truex has been around NASCAR long enough to understand what can happen with talent, guile and equipment meet opportunity in a race car.

He's seen his contemporaries rise through the ranks, and remembers being on brother Martin Jr.'s pit stand three years ago when rookie Trevor Bayne scored a shocking win in the Daytona 500.

Now, as the 2014 Sprint Cup season commences Sunday with the Daytona 500, Ryan has the opportunity to make his own signature moments on NASCAR's ultimate stage. And the Stafford Township, N.J., native is dreaming big.

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"I think about having those big moments all the time," said Truex, 21, who is among a corps of eight talented rookies driving at NASCAR's top series this season. "I think every driver does. It motivates you."

Truex's moment will not come in Sunday's Daytona 500, which is scheduled to go green at 1 p.m. at Daytona International Speedway. He fell short in his efforts to qualify for the race, delaying his season debut at least a week, when the series moves to Phoenix International Raceway.

The Daytona disappointment won't be his last. Not only does he face a rookie's learning curve, but he drives for a team, BK Racing, that has experienced relatively little success in its two previous seasons in NASCAR.

Yet Truex insists he prefers his situation - which he says came "out of nowhere" in January - to being on a more established team.

"It's cool. I'm part of something more than just getting in a top team and going out and racing," said Truex, a two-time champion on the developmental NASCAR K&N Pro Series East tour. "I actually get to help build a team and work together to get better, so as I'm getting better, they're getting better.

"And I think it kind of takes the pressure off a little bit. There haven't been high expectations set by having a guy like Kevin Harvick or Juan Pablo Montoya drive your car the year before. So we're kind of flying under the radar, and I think we have an opportunity to go out and surprise a lot of people."

Two people who won't be surprised by Ryan's successes are father Martin Sr., a former NASCAR driver, and veteran Cup driver Martin Jr., who also finds himself on a new team, Furniture Row Racing, for the 2014 season.

After the leaving the infield care center following a crash Thursday night at Daytona, Martin Jr. quickly set out to inquire whether his brother, who is 12 years younger, had qualified for the race.

Martin Sr. said he couldn't be prouder of his sons - and he's especially proud of the way Martin Jr. has mentored his younger brother "since the day he started go-karting."

"Martin's been a big part of Ryan's career," Martin Sr. said. "And I see that continuing."

Martin Jr.'s influence will likely be most valuable this season, as Ryan visits a number of Sprint Cup tracks for the first time. Ryan said he's comforted knowing he can lean on his brother's years of experience; Martin, of course, is happy to help.

"Most of what I can help him with will be about the race cars themselves, about the tracks that we go to," Martin Jr. said. "Each weekend, things that he should look for, different ways he can help his team progress, things like that.

"He's with a young team that's kind of trying to make their way into the sport, so there's gonna be a lot on his shoulders. There's gonna be a lot of things he can do to help his team get to the next level. Those are the kind of things I'll try to help him with because I've been in the same position before."

Equally important to his progression, though, will be track time. Ryan has not run a full season since his second K&N title in 2010. Last year, he ran only four races -- Sprint Cup events at Bristol, Richmond and Dover and a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona.

"To actually have some consistency is really a big deal for me," Ryan said. "That's been one of my biggest struggles. When you know you have a month off between races, not only do you have to worry about going out and being fast right off the bat, but you can't go out and take chances that you would if you raced every weekend. If you wreck your car, who knows when your next opportunity will be?

"So now, I feel like I can really go out there and give 110 percent and not have to worry about anything. Obviously, you don't want to make mistakes, but I won't have to worry about what I'm going to be doing next week,who I'll be racing for. It takes a lot off my shoulders. And it's a big plus to be out there racing every weekend."

The increased seat time already seems to be paying off. Just 24 hours after his crushing disappointment in Daytona 500 qualifying, Ryan raced to a fourth-place finish in Friday's Truck Series race.

Throughout the intense race, Ryan flashed the talent that inspired BK Racing to sign him for the 2014 season after a Daytona test in January. At the time, Ryan had become increasingly frustrated by his inability to find a full-time ride, and wasn't clear what he'd be doing in 2014.

"It's a great opportunity for him to come to a full sponsored team," Martin Sr. said. "He's won in everything he's been in, but still, you're taking a chance on a kid. Most of these young kids have got to come along with a big sponsor to get a ride, but that wasn't the case here. They believed in him enough to hire him on his talent."

One of those believers is Dale Ferguson, who will serve as crew chief for Ryan's No. 83 Toyota. At the Daytona test, the two established an easy rapport that has grown in recent weeks.

"We were comfortable with each other right out of the gate, and that's huge," said Ferguson, who had never met Truex prior to the January test. "Call it chemistry or whatever you want to call it; it's just people having a mutual respect for each other. And (the sport is) so fast-paced, you have to have that.

"There's gonna be a learning curve for him. I've got to give him all the information and our team needs to elevate the curve, even before he gets to the next track. And he's got his brother to lean on. That's huge. That's just a phone call away. And we have to do the same thing from the car side."

Ryan has never been shy about asking his brother for help. He lived in Martin Jr.'s North Carolina garage for a year, and often crashes on the couch of his motor home.

"I'm gonna try and steal a couple of rides in his plane this year," Ryan said.

Said Martin Jr.: "It's gonna be cool. To travel together each weekend, spent more time with him on the road, and be able to race against him on the race track. I know my dad's obviously proud, being a racer himself. To see us both get to this level is a big deal, something that most people don't get to do.

"We're both very fortunate, and we're gonna have a lot of fun with it."


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