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April 19, 2024

Destiny deferred? Ryan Sieg’s response to ‘gut-wrenching’ Texas heartbreak is to stay the course

Wandering the cavernous Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Ryan Sieg was trying to find a quiet place for an interview.

At the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ 2024 trade show, a crowd of several thousand were jammed into an 11,415-square-foot ballroom humming at a low roar with the cacophony emanating from 350-plus exhibits.

But there was another reason it was hard for Sieg, the main character in one of NASCAR’s tightest finishes ever, to locate a peaceful corner for a phone call.

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Ryan Sieg gets short end of thrilling 0.002-second photo finish with Mayer at Texas Ryan Sieg gets short end of thrilling 0.002-second photo finish with Mayer at Texas

The Georgia native was getting recognized on this Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas as he never had before during a decade of plugging away as a midpack driver in the Xfinity Series.

Shaking hands and signing autographs near a simulator car wrapped just like the No. 39 Ford that placed an agonizing second by a literal inch last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, Sieg was gobsmacked by an endless procession of well-wishers who wanted to talk about the highlight-reel finish.

“Yeah, a thousand times,” Sieg told with a laugh during a break from this previously scheduled appearance for primary sponsor SciAps. “Everybody was saying, ‘You were just that short. We thought you had it!’ They were all pumped and thrilled.”

While he accepted their condolences and congratulations as graciously as he handled his post-race interviews, each greeting was a reminder of the “heartbreaking” fact that he remains winless in NASCAR’s national series after more than 450 starts in the last 15 years.

“Yeah, it stings,” Sieg, 36, said. “But I’ve just kind of moved on and tried not to get too upset.

“I mean, even here, it’s all over the place everywhere I go. I’ve got a lot of fans that I didn’t even really know about.”

RELATED: Ryan Sieg driver page | Texas race recap

Despite losing by 0.002 seconds to Sam Mayer in the second-closest finish in series history, Texas could mark the turning point for Sieg and a family-owned team based in Georgia that is off to a strong start in 2024. After missing last year’s playoffs, Sieg has returned to the form that had him in championship contention in 2019, ’20 and ’22 – but with an extra kick.

Ryan Sieg's second-place car had its battle scars
Ryan Sieg’s second-place car had its battle scars. (Patrick Vallely | For

RSS Racing has its largest staff (still only 14 full-time employees), its fastest pit crews and an alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing paying its biggest dividends yet. There is decided optimism heading to Talladega Superspeedway — the previous track where Sieg had finished second (on Oct. 3, 2020).

Despite his disappointment, he lingered with team members through tech inspection after Texas, sticking around “just to keep their heads in the game, and they were all excited, even though we were on the wrong end of it.

“(Texas) was a big step to run top three, and it was pretty extraordinary to unload as the third-fastest car in practice. Everything’s going in the right direction. I just have to get that one spot better at Talladega.”

– – –

It could be a blessing in disguise that Sieg will wait a little longer for his first win as his family was unavailable to celebrate firsthand in Texas. His wife, Amanda, was at their home north of Atlanta, coordinating a birthday slumber party last Saturday for the middle of their three daughters.

Olivia, who turned 9 late last month, was the first to greet Dad when he got home, offering a big hug and a reminder that “Second’s still good!”

Sieg laughs that Olivia and 11-year-old Lily (Riley, 5, is their youngest) are beginning to appreciate his day job. “They tell all their friends at school what I do and then say, ‘Oh, you’re famous!’ “

Before jetting off to Las Vegas, Sieg got a Sunday at home with Amanda and the girls, enjoying a cookout on the lake to fete his RSS teammate and younger brother, Kyle, who turned 23 two days after his season-best 14th at Texas.

Aside from collecting a few classic cars, friends say Ryan Sieg has few hobbies outside of racing and family.

The full name of his team is “Ryan Scott Sieg Racing,” though there is Internet confusion that it stands for “Ryan Shane Sieg Racing” (Shane Sieg was Ryan’s late older brother who raced in the Craftsman Truck Series from 2003-11).

“You can say whatever,” Ryan said. “We’ve just gone with it because Shane actually had the same initials that I did. His was Rodney Shane, and mine’s Ryan Scott. So it all works out the same as RSS Racing.”

It still is appropriate to associate the team with Shane because his go-karting career (inspired by a grandfather who was a former dirt racer) was the impetus for RSS Racing, which has been anchored by the Sieg family’s longtime towing business.

“They would tow Shane’s go-kart on the back of a tow truck to the race track,” Ryan said with a laugh. “And it all just started and kept going from there. For a little while, my uncle was my crew chief when we were in the Truck Series, and he started me off in late models. It’s all family.”

Parents Rod and Pam own the team but are fairly hands-off (with the towing business still to run). Ryan and Kyle Sieg and Mike Scearce (Kyle’s crew chief) handle the day-to-day operations.

In addition to he and his brother handling interior work and putting in their own cars’ seats (as well as sometimes applying wraps and clear coating), Ryan is at the shop daily to stay on top of mundane tasks such as answering emails and ordering parts.

Danny Dugan, the team’s marketing director who has worked in various roles at RSS Racing over the past 10 years, has witnessed Ryan “come out of his shell the last couple of years” as a leader.

“He was really reserved and kind of kept to himself,” Dugan said. “He’s old-school and just wants to drive and work on the car. But he’s definitely come a long way in opening up. He’s just a good guy, a good dad, a good husband. And that’s probably one of the reasons I’ve been with him for as long as I have. Not only him but the whole family. They’re just good people, and that’s tough to find in the racing industry. Things can go bad real quick, and that’s when people start stabbing each other in the back. That’s not who they are and who he is.”

Ryan Sieg studies the scene while talking to his crew
For Ryan Sieg, racing is a family affair. (Getty Images)

RSS Racing’s infrastructure fosters a certain collegiality. After moving to a larger shop in Buford (about 45 minutes from Atlanta), the team added an eight-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, living room and showers to attract team members from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Some team members stay at the shop Monday through Wednesday and then drive home to Charlotte to fly to races. Another team member makes a weekly round-trip drive to Charlotte (sometimes twice) to help get parts.

“It’s not a very fun drive with all the construction,” said Sieg, who has made the trip up I-85 twice recently for simulator sessions at the Ford Performance Technical Center in Concord. “We have to make sure we have everything in advance, so it is more difficult out of Georgia. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Without the convenience of Charlotte-based charter flights, it also can be a bigger hassle flying commercial from Atlanta. On the way to Texas, crew members tried to take the first flight at 5:30 a.m. Friday (to save a night in a hotel). But a 2:30 a.m. wakeup call was followed by a morning of delays, and they didn’t reach the track until a few hours after the garage opened.

The team has overcome its distance from NASCAR’s hub in other ways. A switch to Jordan Anderson Racing’s Trackhouse-affiliated pit crews has been a vast improvement this year. And after initial growing pains from a switch to Ford in 2021, RSS Racing’s alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing (which supplies data and cars) has borne fruit in the past three seasons.

Sieg said Matt Noyce has been a difference maker since taking over as the No. 39 crew chief for the final four races last season. Through two previous stints at Stewart-Haas, Noyce already knew the team’s processes and was an ideal liaison for RSS.

“He can get the most out of the information that they provide,” Sieg said. “He’s made everything a lot better, especially on my team. That’s why we brought Matt to get more advanced on our setups. That’s why we do the alliance. So it’s all paying off now.”

– – –

Ryan Sieg forced himself to watch the Texas finish during his Monday flight to Las Vegas. Other than the hindsight of knowing a harder turn to the right might have prevented Mayer from taking the checkered flag, there still are no regrets.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to have enough of a run (to win),’ and then the air just slowed our full momentum down,” he said. “We were just on the wrong end. I thought I did all I could do.”

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg bang doors in a photo finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg put on a show at Texas Motor Speedway. (Patrick Vallely | For

He lingered a little longer than typical in his car before dejectedly but politely answering every question.

“I’ve been in those situations a few times, and you try not to get too upset about it,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe we were that close and didn’t get it. And everybody (on the team) were just like, ‘It’s all good.’ They knew that I just did all I could do.”

It was his second top 10 in eight races, but Sieg believes he should have at least twice as many (he led 12 laps at Daytona and got in an incident at Martinsville after qualifying eighth).

“We’re getting the car the way I want it to drive,” he said. “We’ve been working hard, and Matt gets the most out of the guys.”

There are echoes of Jeremy Clements Racing, another family-owned team that keeps grinding away and has won twice in Xfinity with its namesake driver. Sieg actually made the first two starts of his Xfinity career with JCR in 2013 before going full-time at RSS the following year.

But he admits wondering what his results would be at an established team with direct Cup affiliation. Multiple times, Sieg has posted top 10s in Xfinity with cars that came directly from Cup shops. Before the proposed deal “went sideways” a few years ago, he considered taking sponsorship to Richard Childress Racing for a part-time Xfinity ride and the possibility of Cup races.

“It’s like, sometimes you want to just win,” Sieg said. “You know what I mean? You almost want to go to a different team that’s capable of winning. And then you’re also like, ‘Well, I just don’t want to leave what I’ve started here. I want to see it through.’ And you’re on the fence of do I just bring sponsorship somewhere else or just keep plugging away with what we have and get more sponsorship? And that’s what we’ve done.”

Dugan said the phone at RSS Racing has been ringing with prospective sponsors since Texas. Sieg is also eligible for the $100,000 Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus at Talladega.

“We’re trying to turn what is a gut-wrenching loss into a positive,” Dugan said. “(Texas) definitely created some buzz. You get caught in running 10th to 20th, and people kind of get used to that. So anytime you finish second and have an exciting race like that and get more eyeballs, there’s obviously a ton of people that come out. It sucks you lost by an inch, but there are a lot of positives that come with it.”

MORE: 2024 Xfinity Series schedule | 2024 Xfinity Series standings

The timing was very good to capitalize on the Vegas show for SciAps, a Boston-based company that specializes in handheld portable instruments to help sort scrap metal. Sieg said the sponsor already seems committed to returning in 2025, but he’d like to leave no doubt by making the Xfinity title race in Phoenix – a lofty goal he believes is attainable.

“We just got to keep the momentum going,” he said. “At least we want to make it all the way to the end, that’s one of our goals. We just got to at least make it to the first round. If we keep doing what we’re doing, I feel like we should be able to achieve that by winning a race here soon.”

Nate Ryan has written about NASCAR since 1996 while working at the San Bernardino Sun, Richmond Times-Dispatch, USA TODAY and for the past 10 years at NBC Sports Digital. He is the host of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast and also has covered various other motorsports, including the IndyCar and IMSA series.