By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
A few years ago, Ryan Truex’s future seemed destined for greatness. Then the reality of stock car racing slapped the young driver’s hopes down, and heading into the 2016 season, Truex had no idea where — or if — he’d drive this season.
Then came an unexpected call from Shigeaki Hattori, a former IndyCar driver turned Truck Series driver, turned car owner from Japan. Hattori had a place for Truex in his newly formed No. 81 Toyota Tundra with sponsorship from Goodyear. Truex said, sure and a few weeks later he was driving the race of his life.
“You just can’t give up, you know? It’s easy to get down on yourself, it’s easy to give up, it’s easy to quit. You just keep going,” Truex explained. “I know I see (Kligerman) at the track every weekend, I’m at the track every weekend. You talk to whoever will talk to you. You don’t say no to an opportunity. That’s what we did this weekend, and it worked out for us.”
Truex started the NextEra Energy Resources 250 from the 20th position, and for the first section of the race he played things pretty safe. As Truex waited and methodically picked his way through the field. By the midway point of the race, Truex had moved to the top-10, and he knew he had a truck worthy of a good finish.
With help from Cameron Hayley pushing from behind, Truex found himself with a chance to win late in the race. With seven laps remaining, Truex held the lead when chaos ensued behind him. Contact with Timothy Peters sent Hayley, who was right behind Truex, spinning in front of the entire field. 18 trucks would pile in for an epic crash.
a 28-minute red flag would halt the action.
When the race restarted, Truex had a new pusher in Parker Kligerman. The duo looked strong, but with one lap to go another huge crash was triggered which sent Christopher Bell flipping wildly. The field was frozen at the time of the caution, which was bad news for Truex. He had just lost connection briefly with Kligerman, which allowed Johnny Sauter to barely edge ahead of him for the victory.
“If that wreck wouldn’t have happened I think we would have had him. The bottom was just the place to be all day,” said a disappointed, but excited Truex.
Truex may not have won, but he opened up a ton of eyes Friday night. But how does a driver like Truex just disappear from consideration of top-tier rides, like he had which set up this entire story-book night?
After two-straight K&N Pro East Series championships in 2009 and 2010, Truex drove in pursuit of competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Truex began his NASCAR National Series career as a developmental driver for Michael Waltrip Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY (then Nationwide) Series. When Michael Waltrip Racing’s XFINITY Series program folded at the conclusion of the 2011 season, Truex moved to a developmental contract with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Truex’s biggest moment for JGR came in the Dover in the Spring of 2012. That day Truex sat on the pole, led 43 laps and ended up finish second to Joey Logano. However, Joe Gibbs Racing’s stable of drivers was — and still is — pretty full, so Truex was in search of a place where he could find a home.
Truex landed a deal with BK Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The transition to NASCAR’s premier series didn’t go as Truex hoped, and he was out of a ride after 26 races.
Since then, Truex has been a development driver for Richard Petty Motorsports, but the development deal has led to very few opportunities to showcase his talent. In the end, Truex found his own way, outside of a development deal to show what he could do on NASCAR’s biggest stage. Where does he go from here? Perhaps full-time racing in the Truck Series.
“I didn’t have a ride a few weeks ago, and Hattori Racing called me and wanted me to come drive for them,” Truex said. “At first it looked like just Daytona, but then the more we got to talking the more it looked like we would run full-season.”
Image: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images