A new season brought renewed optimism and a new look for the second-year team, including the expansion to two-full-time trucks and a pair of fresh faces as full-time drivers.

One was 22-year-old Austin Wayne Self, a Texas native like Niece, and the second was 20-year-old North Carolinian Justin Fontaine.

“I feel like now, things are really starting to come together pretty well for us. This deal has grown in ways I didn’t think would be possible this quickly,” admitted Niece. “You always dream it, but you never know how it’s all going to turn out.

“Everything’s moving forward now. We’ve picked up some new sponsors, signed two young, full-time drivers in Austin and Justin who are both hungry and really fired up to go out and make some things happen for us, and it’s been really exciting so far,” Niece added. “We’ve had some decent runs, but we’ve been beaten up at times too. We’re still a young team and earning respect, but I really feel like we’re in a good place for as short of a time as we’ve been in the Truck Series and I’m looking forward to the days to come.”

Within the season’s first four races, Fontaine scored the team’s first two top-10 finishes, notching a 10th-place result in the season opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway in February and adding a ninth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.

Al Niece (right) with Austin Wayne Self.

He ranked 14th in driver points entering the month of May, while Self sat close behind in 17th.

Despite having two full- timers racing out of his team’s shop in Statesville, N.C., Niece has not given up on his goal of driver development. He’s forged an alliance with journeyman Truck Series racer Jordan Anderson as part of that goal, and signed second-generation driver Max McLaughlin to a development contract.

McLaughlin will run four Truck Series events for Niece Motorsports this year, including the Eldora (Ohio) Speedway dirt track in mid-July.

Niece claims it’s all about affordability in a series that is working hard to cut costs for its teams.

“We’re trying not to price our team out of anyone’s range if we can help it. I like giving the younger guys a chance to develop some experience and show what they’re capable of at the national level,” said Niece. “We know that a lot of these drivers have the talent and just need an economical path to be able to show it. We’re trying to be the team that can give them that road map.”

Much of that road map has been forged by Efaw, who began as the team’s crew chief in 2017 before transitioning into the general manager role.

“There’s no way we’d be where we are without Cody,” Niece said. “I have complete confidence in what he’s doing for this team and he’s been the major force behind bringing some of these young guys into our fold. He’s been a tremendous asset and a boost to all our development efforts.”

Niece eventually turns  the conversation back to the service, his other passion. He stresses that aside from driver development, recognizing those who have fought for the freedom that Americans enjoy is the true testament to what his team is all about.

“I’ve got several friends that can’t even make it out to the races anymore because they’re so crippled up, but they respect what we do and for me, it’s about honoring them and reminding people, ‘Hey, we made it through,’ you know?” Niece pointed out.

“What we want to do, for as many races as we can, is get some servicemen or women — I’m personally partial to the Marine Corps because that’s where I served, but it could be any branch — and get them in as guests for these races because it’s a cause that’s important to us as an organization,” Niece added. “I want them to be able to see that we care and that we appreciate what they’ve done for all of us to be able to have this sport every weekend and enjoy it like we do. Anytime I see a veteran at the race track, we try to say thank you to them and help them out in any way we can.”

A big reason why Niece is passionate about staying involved in NASCAR is due to the sanctioning body’s efforts to give back to the troops as well.

And it also gives him a break from “real work.”

“It’s something that I enjoy. It takes me away from and gives me a refreshing break from my regular job,” Niece said with a laugh. “Not to mention, I like seeing how NASCAR respects our veterans and all the initiatives that they have that support the troops. That’s something that’s very important to me, as I’ve said often, and it continues to impress me every time I come into the pit area. I hope it continues.”