DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After Martin Truex Jr. ended the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season in dominant fashion with eight wins and a championship, many eyes are on him this year to repeat his success.
But there’s another Truex who will have a lot of pressure on him this season — his younger brother, Ryan.
Ryan Truex, the 25-year-old Stafford Township native, will start his first full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series season Saturday at Daytona driving the No. 11 Chevrolet for 2017 title contender Kaulig Racing.
Qualifying begins at 9:30 a.m. with the race scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. Fox Sports 1 will televise both events.
When Truex ended his NASCAR media tour interview at Charlotte Motor Speedway in January, he spoke with ambiguity about his upcoming NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
“I guess it’ll work out or it’ll be my farewell tour,” he said then.
“I mean, every year I feel like it may be my last,” Truex said in an interview outside of his hauler Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. “I don’t know, I guess I’m pessimistic when it comes to that because I don’t really bank on anything happening. Having everything coming together is tough.”
Don’t be fooled, however. After nearly a decade of trying, Truex is staying persistent in his quest to gain a firmer foothold in the sport. And he’s relishing his latest — and best — opportunity.
“I’ve been around for a while, and I think this is my first real shot at winning an Xfinity Series championship,” Truex said. “It definitely feels like I need to really assert myself as a top-three series driver, and I feel like I did that last year (in the Truck series), and I’m ready to do that again.”
The elusive ride
While most drivers who receive their first full-time season are young drivers still working their way through the ranks, Truex has raced in just about every NASCAR series. From his two championships in the K&N Pro East Series, 37 starts in the Xfinity Series, and even 26 starts in Monster Energy Cup, Truex has been somewhat of a journeyman.
His career in NASCAR dates to 2008. He appeared to have a promising career ahead of him, especially after securing back-to-back NASCAR K&N Pro East Series championships in 2009 and 2010.
However, since then Truex has been filling in warm seats in part-time deals and has been winless since a K&N race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2010.
“Every other series, I proved myself, and then I would get a full-time ride for the next series,” Truex said. “But then I got to this level (Xfinity), and it just didn’t happen.
“It was honestly just bad timing. I was the youngest guy by far in the Xfinity Series at the time. Everybody was struggling to put the funding and sponsorship to run. There wasn’t this huge youth movement like there is now. I came in just ahead of that.”
It wasn’t until last year that Truex finally got his break with a full-time ride with Hattori Racing in the Truck Series after competing with them part time in 2016. And he didn’t disappoint, despite driving for a team that hadn’t had much success in the past.
“Last year was really strong with Hattori,” Truex said. “I feel like I was able to really prove myself last year and kind of get back on everyone’s radar and prove that with good equipment I can run well.”
Truex won his first two poles, eight top-fives, 12 top-10s and narrowly missed the truck series playoffs by losing a tiebreaker with Thorsport’s Ben Rhodes. He finished ninth in the final points standings.
Enter Matt Kaulig, owner of Kaulig Racing.
“Honestly, the Kaulig Racing thing came out of nowhere.” Truex said. “I haven’t even had time to enjoy it really. I haven’t been able to sit back and say, ‘Wow, I’m an Xfinity driver.’ There’s just been so much preparation.”
Kaulig Racing has found success in the Xfinity Series by making the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
“They’ve already proven themselves as a great team by making the playoffs the last two years,” Truex said. “I know the feeling I need to win, and I feel like I can bring that here and be able to help them get even stronger. I’m very confident it’ll work out well.”
Chris Rice, a veteran of the sport and Truex’s crew chief for Kaulig, agrees.
“Truex can help us win. He’s super aggressive, which I love,” Rice said. “He’s quiet, but he knows what he really wants in a racecar. He’s pretty cool to watch.”
Truex has been searching for the right team and opportunity for almost eight years. Some might have given up, but Truex has learned all about the power of persistence from the example set by his Cup championship-winning brother.
“I think it’s a great opportunity. They’re a team that has proven themselves in the last couple of years,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “They took a chance on Ryan, and they’re the first team that’s ever really done that, and they’ll be competitive, and hopefully be successful.”
While Ryan said he is especially eager to return to his home track at Dover this year, he starts his first race with Kaulig Racing today in the Powershares QQQ 300 at Daytona, a track where he finished runner-up in his first start with Hattori Racing in 2016.
“I enjoy it, but it’s stressful,” he said with a chuckle about restrictor-plate racing. “I enjoy racing in them, but I don’t enjoy wrecking in them.”