CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Before announcing his deal to drive for Kaluig Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Jan. 9, Ryan Truex admitted he wasn’t confident he’d be back on track this year in any of NASCAR’s three national divisions.
The 25-year-old native of New Jersey was coming off a strong season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises that saw him nearly qualify for the playoffs while earning eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes.
Despite that, the younger brother of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., knew it was going to take more sponsorship to remain with HRE.
“I love the Truck Series, it’s just tough to make it work,” the younger Truex said. “If I hadn’t gotten this deal I don’t know if there was an opportunity to go back to the Truck Series without having to find more sponsorship than I already have. That was kind of why, in December, I still didn’t have a ride because we were still searching for sponsorship to be able to return to the Truck Series.”
Luckily for Truex, Kaulig Racing team owner Matt Kaulig came calling with an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.
“This opportunity kind of came out of nowhere,” Truex said. “Once I went to the race shop and saw the team and saw the equipment and met all the guys and got to know (crew chief) Chris Rice and Matt Kaulig, the owner, it just seemed like the right move to step up and run the Xfinity Series.”
The two parties initially began discussions regarding a second Xfinity Series team at Kaulig Racing, but eventually Kaulig reached out to Truex about driving the No. 11 Chevrolet Camaro that Blake Koch has driven the last two years.
“I actually flew to Ohio and met Matt in late December and honestly we just hit it off right off the bat,” Truex said. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen because I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to these things. It seems like every time I have a deal almost done something happens, something falls through.
“I honestly didn’t think this was going to happen until the night before when I signed the contract, just because that’s how I am. I never really count my chickens until they hatch I guess.”
The two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion has struggled to find a consistent seat in one of NASCAR’s three National divisions. He ran part-time in all three national divisions from 2010 to ’16 before finally landing the full-time opportunity last year at HRE.
In 2014, he entered 23 of the 36 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driving for BK Racing, but the team struggled to provide consistent equipment. He also entered 39 Xfinity Series races between 2010 and ’15, finishing a career-best second at Dover Int’l Speedway while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in ’12.
Truex’s hope is to get back to the Cup Series and race full-time so he can try and follow in the footsteps of his brother and win a Cup Series championship of his own.
“Obviously my goal is to be back in the Cup Series in quality equipment where I can compete and hopefully do what my brother has been able to do,” Truex said. “I think this is a really good pathway to get there. Kaulig Racing having the RCR alliance I think is huge for the team and for me. There are a lot of resources there and there are a lot of things I can lean on to become a better driver and go out and compete for wins.”
So does Truex think all the struggles he has gone through on and off the race track has made him a better driver? He absolutely thinks so.
“I think all the things I’ve gone through, all the struggles and the races I’ve almost won and the races I’ve run in last place and have made me a better driver and has made me appreciate it a lot more.”