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Ryan Truex has witnessed this kind of professional adversity before.
He was there in 2013 when his older brother, Martin Truex Jr. was left without a ride in the wake of the playoff-fixing scandal that eventually shuttered his Michael Waltrip Racing team. He was there over the next four years, too, as Martin methodically helped craft underdog Furniture Row Racing into a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
So the 25-year-old knows what it takes to overcome a career essentially left for dead.
It wasn’t too long ago that the younger Truex was a prized top prospect and a two-time KN Pro Series East champion. He had made a handful of Xfinity Series one-offs for Joe Gibbs Racing and generally looked ready for primetime when the funding rug was gut-wrenchingly pulled out from under him.
“I wish I had come up two years earlier or two years later,” Ryan told Autoweek. “There wasn’t the youth push we have now. I came in before the veterans started to retire. I was 18 in the Xfinity Series but just didn’t have the funding, and there weren’t any open seats either.”
Without the option to buy a ride, Ryan became a journeyman driver and made starts across all three divisions for BK Racing, Phoenix Racing, Biagi-DenBeste Racing and Hattori Racing Enterprises. It was at the latter where Truex looked capable of following in his brother’s footsteps, nearly taking the underfunded team to a Truck Series playoff berth.
Martin says the entire process noticeably matured his younger brother.
“He’s grown a lot over the years, and I think for a while he was kind of cast aside because everybody always thought he was really quiet and he’s really reserved and it was hard to get him to say anything,” Martin said. “He’s kind of changed a lot over the years, and that kind of got lost in the shuffle.
“It was good for people to see his personality last year, but most importantly what he could do behind the wheel. That team they had last year, they did a great job in kind of building a truck and did some things on a low budget and ran really well. That was good not only for his name but also for his confidence, to be able to do that.”
This season, Ryan will be tasked with elevating his own version of Furniture Row, joining Kaulig Racing with the hopes of taking the Xfinity Series team to the next level. Ryan admits that he has already looked to his older brother for inspiration.
“It’s still crazy to me how his life has played out,” he said. “Martin had no idea what would happen when (sponsor) NAPA pulled out (of MWR.) That first year was tough for him.
“Furniture Row wasn’t the powerhouse it is now. I was running the BK (Racing) car and he was essentially right in front of me every week. Four years later? He’s the champion. That motivates me that we can do something special at Kaulig. All it takes is the right team at the right time.”
Team owner Matt Kaulig has enjoyed moderate success over the past two years with driver Blake Koch, making the playoffs both seasons, before deciding to forge a new path with Truex. The team has Richard Childress Racing support and is located on the grounds of the RCR Campus in Welcome, North Carolina.
“I haven’t had access to these kind of resources since my MWR (development driver) days,” Ryan said. “We’re basically a RCR Xfinity car. I feel blessed and (crew chief) Chris Rice is really good. I’m ready to get started.”
– Matt Weaver is an associate motorsports editor at Autoweek. Before becoming a journalist, he was a dirt track racer and short track cheeseburger connoisseur.
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