Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Will Ryan Truex Find Stability After Xfinity Win?

The NASCAR Xfinity Series closed out the month of April with two surprise winners. One week after Jeb Burton took the checkers at Talladega Superspeedway, Ryan Truex won at Dover Motor Speedway, scoring his first ever win in one of NASCAR’s three national touring series.

See also
Ryan Truex Scores 1st Career Win at Dover

Truex wore out the competition in Saturday’s (April 29) race, leading 124 laps to avenge a narrow loss at Dover 11 years ago. Competing part-time in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex’s win could be the catalyst for a full-time ride with JGR.

Truex landing a full-time JGR Xfinity seat in 2024 would defy the typical career path for drivers of his generation. Ever since NASCAR’s second-tier division took on its identity as the developmental level for the Cup Series, young drivers in fast cars have been expected to perform immediately. Those who do not win right away get shoved aside, either for the next prospect in line or anyone else who is able to write a bigger check.

Truex learned this the hard way during his previous part-time stint with JGR from 2011-2012. The first 2012 Dover race, where he lost the lead six laps from the finish after getting hung up in traffic, was the only time in 13 starts where he led more than a lap or two. He did earn eight top 10s in those races, not bad considering that he was only 20 during the 2012 season. But when wins and sponsorship didn’t materialize for more seat time, Truex and Gibbs parted ways.

Ever since, it feels like Truex’s NASCAR career has been in survival mode. His only attempt at full-time Cup racing to date was with BK Racing in 2014. That arrangement didn’t work out, and Truex was replaced three quarters of the way through the season.

He was then left to cobble together a series of races across the Xfinity and Truck Series before coming back to JGR for select events last year. Truex did run some full-time campaigns in that intermediary period, but he could never secure a deal with any team for multiple seasons. It seemed like Truex was destined to slowly fade away.

However, maybe Truex’s win is the light at the end of the tunnel. His victory is going to give Joe Gibbs and the other team owners some cause for thought. Perhaps Truex was a late bloomer after all, and might be able to compete for a Xfinity championship if paired with the right team.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a Truex took a while to find his groove in NASCAR. Remember that Martin Truex Jr., Ryan’s older brother, won only three races in his first 10 seasons of full-time Cup Series racing.

That was not the career trajectory that most people would have predicted for Martin 18 years ago. When the elder Truex rose to the Cup Series, he was fresh off back-to-back championships in the second-tier division with the Dale Earnhardt Inc.-supported Chance 2 Motorsports. Truex was the hottest prospect in NASCAR and was expected to make an immediate splash in the Cup Series.

It didn’t happen. Not only did Truex go winless in his first season, he only earned five top 10s. Eventual Rookie of the Year Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer both stole some of the spotlight in 2006, and while Truex did earn his first Cup Series win the next year at Dover, the internal turmoil at DEI was beginning to hold the team back. As his winless streak dragged on, the conversation around Truex went from surefire future champion to someone who could still be competitive if, and only if, he found the right team.

The right team didn’t come right away. Truex finally snapped his winless streak with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013, only to watch his team implode in the aftermath of Spingate. Left without a better option, Truex slogged through a miserable season with Furniture Row Racing in 2014. Fortunately for all involved, FRR made some key personnel moves before 2015 began, including a promotion of Cole Pearn to crew chief. This, at last, was the team Truex needed to be competitive on a weekly basis.

From 2016 through 2021, his win total exploded from three to 31, and he scored the 2017 championship in dominating fashion. Truex ultimately had the type of career many predicted, but it took a long time for him to get there. His sudden ascension to dominance with FRR obscures the very real struggles that he faced to live up to industry expectations.

If you think about Martin’s NASCAR journey, it’s not so far-fetched to believe that Ryan could have a similar transformation in store. If he and Gibbs were to hit on the right combination, and of course secure the right sponsor, Ryan could easily be a Xfinity Series contender for the next decade.

And as long as JGR continues to exist as a multi-car Xfinity operation, it wouldn’t want to fill every single seat with young prospects anyway. That would be a recipe for disaster. JR Motorsports has demonstrated the value of having a Xfinity lifer like Justin Allgaier in its squad. Maybe Ryan could fill that role for JGR someday.

If Truex wanted to go Cup Series racing, his options would be limited. In a best-case scenario, he would probably wind up like David Reutimann. Reutimann was able to win in the lower series quicker than Ryan, but he didn’t get a real shot in the Cup Series until he was in his mid-30s. In a hypothetical situation where a 31-year-old Truex gets a big break in the Cup Series, he would probably face the same set of circumstances.

However, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Reutimann was a multi-race winner during his Cup Series career. Yet unlike his former teammate Martin, Reutimann is more of an example of someone who didn’t find the right team at the right time.

At least for Ryan Truex, the possibility of stability in NASCAR exists; that’s more than he has been able to say for a long time. If a full-time Xfinity ride with JGR materializes from his win, this will go down in history as the weekend that saved his career. If it doesn’t, he’ll have to hope for another chance to race competitively or become the footnote in NASCAR history his brother almost was.

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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