By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Kaulig Racing’s Ryan Truex. Truex is a 26-year-old driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series from Mayetta, NJ. He drives the No. 11 Phantom Fireworks / Bar Harbor / Sea Watch International Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Truex is competing for the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship. He is currently eighth in the Championship Points Standings, 129 behind Points Leader Elliott Sadler, and 117 ahead of Ross Chastain, who holds the cutoff for the Playoffs.
Seth Eggert: Your father, Martin Truex raced, your brother Martin Truex, Jr. races, and your cousins, Curtis Truex and Tyler Truex race. What made you follow in their footsteps?
Ryan Truex: “It was just a family thing. I was around it my whole life. It was just natural for me. Right off the bat I was fast, had speed. Everything made sense for me. Just went from there.”
SE: How did you convince your parents to let you race professionally? Was it difficult?
RT: “It took a little while. It took a year or two before they let me get in a car and see what I had.”
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
RT: “My first race was at Wall Stadium (Speedway) in a Bandlero down on the flat track. I think it was 2006 or 2007. I don’t exactly remember when. I think I was second or third maybe.”
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
RT: “Probably Martin. He is the closest one to me with the most experience. He’s been in all of the series that I’m in now and have gone through. He’s been the one that I’m able to lean on coming up through the ranks to get advice.”
SE: Is there a specific track that you want to win at?
RT: “Dover. Just because it’s my home track, but I’ll take a win anywhere.”
SE: You’ve driven for some of the powerhouse teams, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, as well as some underfunded teams, including Hattori Racing Enterprises and BK Racing. Can you describe the different goals and mindsets a driver would have between the two?
RT: “The tough part is when I was with MWR and Gibbs, I was really young and didn’t have a lot of experience. A lot of that was just learning for me. Then when I go to places like BK Racing, Biagi in Xfinity, I had the experience to know what I had and know what I was dealing with.
“It’s definitely a different mindset. When you’re in a really good car, like this year, you know you have got to be aggressive, you know you can win races. In an underfunded team, you more so have to take care of the car. You know you’re not going to win the race, but your best chance is to make it to the end with attrition that you can come out with a solid day.”
SE: You made the jump up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2014 with limited experience. If you had to do it over again, would you still make that jump?
RT: “I don’t know honestly. You can’t replace the experience in Cup. Was it the best possible move I could make at that time? No, but it was my only opportunity. When an opportunity like that comes and you’ve got nothing else, you have to take it.
“The alternative is to sit at home and watch, and doing that, no matter how talented you are in NASCAR, if you’re not out there racing and staying in front of people, they forget about you. That was the last thing I wanted to happen. Really, it was a no-brainer for me.”
SE: Speaking of Hattori, they credited you with helping make that team as successful as they are now. Watching the success that Brett Moffitt has had this year, do you take pride knowing that you helped, or at least had a hand in making that team what it is today?
RT: “Yeah. In my first year over there in 2016, when I got there in January, it was about as barebones of a Truck team as you could have. They had one truck that they took to Daytona, no back-up. We were rebuilding an older truck to go to Atlanta the next week. That first year we took it on a race-by-race basis. When Shige had the money to run, we’d run, and when he didn’t, we wouldn’t.
“We had a lot of different guys come through there. Crew chiefs, mechanics, everything, trying to find the right fit. At the same time, Shige was trying to find sponsorship, and we’re trying to build new trucks. That year was definitely a struggle.
“Luckily in 2017, we were able to put together the sponsorship to run full-time and get the right people that we wanted over there, like Scott Zipadelli, Mike Greci, to oversee the whole operation. The way I look at it, that was really the first year for Hattori Racing as far as having what we wanted.
“We were still kind of underfunded. We couldn’t spend the money where we need to or when we needed to. We had to be careful about what we did. But, we were able to build some new trucks that year that Scott wanted to build. We had speed with them, got a few poles, came close to winning a few times.
“Going into this off season, they were able to take a step back, look at everything, rebuild, and luckily, they got Brett. He is the best guy in Trucks right now. It’s just been a good combo.”
SE: With the close alliance that your team has with Richard Childress Racing, how much do you lean on Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, and their other drivers?
RT: “The alliance for me has been huge because I haven’t had a team like this with resources to lean on since my days at MWR and JGR. Being able to come in here now with the experience that I have, all of the stuff that I have been through. Just being able to lean on all of those guys, engineering support, everything around us has been huge for me.”
SE: What do you think you and your team has to improve on as the Playoffs draw closer?
RT: “For us, just finding a little more speed. Right now, we’re an eighth-12thplace car every weekend. If we can break into that fifth-eighth area, run where (Daniel) Hemric’s been able to get to for the past 10 races. I think that’s where we’re going to have to be to make it to Homestead. We’re working really hard to try to find the feel in these cars to be able to do that.”
SE: Do you have an opinion on the Charlotte Roval being in the Playoffs?
RT: “I think it’s going to be crazy. That’s about it, I don’t know what to expect until we get there.”
SE: What does the future hold for you, where will you be one year from now?
RT: “I don’t know. I used to worry about that a lot when I was younger, especially when I didn’t have a ride or know what I was doing. Now, I just focus on a race-by-race basis, trying not to think too far ahead. I feel like if I’m not present, thinking about the future, then I’m not here, doing my job now. I try not to worry about it.”