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Ryan Truex bets on himself in second hoorah with Joe Gibbs Racing

Ryan Truex has been put through the ringer since entering NASCAR’s national series in 2010. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying to make it.

In February, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Truex would return to the organization in a four-race deal for the first time since 2012, which began at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He would go on to compete at Martinsville Speedway and Darlington Raceway, before the final race this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Prior to that, he was announced to drive the No. 26 Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

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Truex, who had two previous stints under the Toyota banner, had been wanting to make the transition back for a while. And he elected now was the time to either put up or shut up.

“This was in the works for a while, but my goal was to be back in the Toyota family,” Truex told at Darlington. “Both of those deals worked out perfectly together. Obviously, Sam uses JGR engines and gets support. TRD is a big supporter of him.

“When I come here, the goal is to win races and show everyone what I can do with the right equipment.”

Previously, Truex ran three partial Xfinity Series seasons for Toyota between JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing. In those 35 combined races over three different seasons, he scored nine top-10 finishes, including the infamous runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Dover Motor Speedway in 2012. He led 43 of his 50 career laps in the series during that race.

For the 2016 season, Truex returned to Toyota to run in the Camping World Truck Series for Hattori Racing Enterprises. Competing in a limited schedule, he earned four top 10s, including a runner-up finish to Johnny Sauter at Daytona. But by the end of 2017, the deal fizzled out, leaving him once again without a ride.

“I’ve been trying to get back (to Toyota) for a long time,” Truex said. “When I was with Hattori in 2016 and 2017, I was trying to build that relationship with TRD. That was a lot of work with Shige to get to the point where we got the support that we needed and got close with the Toyota guys. The way the deal ended with Shige wasn’t how I wanted it to go.”

After leaving Hattori, Truex landed in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing in 2018, before being replaced by Justin Haley in 2019. That year, he ran just six NASCAR races for JR Motorsports.

Getting bounced around is something Truex is unfortunately accustomed to. He’s coming off a full-time season with Niece Motorsports with just three top-10 efforts, and there wasn’t an opportunity to return to the team in 2022.

Enter JGR.

“I felt like I needed to give myself an opportunity to get into something that I felt like I could win in right away,” Truex said. “I felt like this was the best opportunity.”

Having run four of the opening 11 Xfinity races in 2022, Truex has a best finish of seventh at Martinsville. In his most recent outing at Darlington, the No. 18 Toyota was battling for a top-10 position on the final lap before contact with Jeremy Clements wrecked both cars. Truex was visibly frustrated after the race, tossing his gloves at the race car after parking it on the frontstretch.

While having a few races to pick from on the schedule in the “all-star” No. 18 car, Truex chose the four tracks based on circuits he has run well at. He also knew being in the car more regularly would likely elevate his potential chances of winning.

“I felt like I had a better shot of front-loading them and being in the seat more consistently,” he said. “Having Darlington and Texas in a row is a huge deal for me. That was a lot of it, just trying to get some consistency.”

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Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. sees how hard his brother works. But that makes Martin even more frustrated, believing his brother has done a good job behind the wheel.

“To think that ‘I’ve got four races in a really good car; if I don’t win one or two of these, I’m probably going to be in the same situation next year,’ it’s tough and it’s a lot of pressure,” Martin said. “He’s just happy to have the opportunity to race a good car and show what he can do. You just pray for things to go really well. A lot of this stuff is about timing.”

Toyota, in general, is happy to have Ryan Truex back in the fold, as executives have become close with the Truex family. Even David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said, it doesn’t hurt having a former champion in the family.

“We would love to see Ryan break through, and with the struggles that he’s had is emblematic of just how hard it is to break through in this sport,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, this year will be a turning point for Ryan and looking forward he might have more opportunities and longer-term opportunities.”

Reflecting on his first few races in the No. 18 car hasn’t been ideal. In Sin City, Truex was caught up in a late-race crash to finish 30th, despite earning stage points in both stages. While Martinsville was his best finish, he believes he had a top-three car and finished seventh, coming back from a late-race spin.

The little things add up. But overall, the transition has been easy.

“My biggest worry was if I would get in the car and have speed because it’s been a while since I’ve been in the Xfinity Series,” Truex said. “And JGR has shown that their cars are the cars to beat every weekend. I probably put more pressure on myself than I need to.”

On a team led by Jason Ratcliff, winner of 54 Xfinity races as a crew chief, Truex considers himself the “weakest link.” That pressure of performing came from knowing he’d have to elevate his game in order to have a fighting shot.

“This is something,” Truex said, “that I needed to do to prove to myself that I can do it.”

Looking at recent success stories at JGR, Truex points to Ryan Preece, who ran two partial seasons in 2017-18. In 19 races, Preece won twice, earning 14 top 10s. He also looks at what Ross Chastain achieved when given an opportunity at Chip Ganassi Racing, winning in his second start.

That was the goal for Truex. And heading into his final scheduled race, it’s something he needs. Because after Texas, Truex hopes to be in an Xfinity car again this season and the team is working to find the necessary sponsorship.

“I need to win,” Truex said. “I feel that way. Vegas, we could have had a shot. At Martinsville, anything can happen there. But for me, the speed has been there and that’s been encouraging. That was the biggest thing I was worried about going into, wondering, ‘Would I still have the speed to do this?’

“My confidence is higher than it was going into the start of this deal. I’ve just to keep it there and do my job right.”