Ryan Truex has had chances to prove he possesses the talent worthy of a well-funded NASCAR Cup ride.
In 2018, he might have his last chance.
Truex, 25, will compete in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing, an organization that has an affiliation with Richard Childress Racing (its shop is on the RCR campus) and one that made the playoffs the past two seasons with Blake Koch as its driver.
After winning back-to-back NASCAR K&N Series East titles in 2009-2010, Truex has bounced around the three NASCAR national series. He competed in the majority of Cup races for BK Racing in 2014, but he didn't have a full-time ride until competing in the truck series last year for Hattori Racing Enterprises, for whom he barely missed the playoffs.
He hopes what could be his last chance is his best chance.
"I'm 25 now, so basically I'm ancient in young driver terms," Truex said. "I've been around since I was 18. I feel like I have been doing this forever.
"This is only my first full-time year in the Xfinity Series. So, I guess this will either work out or be my farewell tour."
Truex doesn't really know what it will take to land a spot at a premier organization. He just knows he has to build on a 2017 in which he had eight top 5s and for a team that pieced together the season with limited funding.
"I wish there was a team owner here that I could ask and they could give me a better answer [of how to make it]," Truex said. "I don't know. We've just got to do our best. I want to win. ... I don't know if it is winning races or running well or making it to the final four or whatever it is."
Since 2014, Truex has competed in four Xfinity races and 38 truck races. But over that time, as he has searched for sponsorship, he has become less introverted. He has used social media to show wit, and his hand-drawn race car T-shirts have become a favorite of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others.
"He's completely changed," said his older brother, Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 NASCAR Cup champion. "But I mean, he grew up. You've got to remember he was 16 when he started racing and moved to North Carolina when he was 18, so ... he's changed a lot. He's grown up a lot, matured."
Watching his brother face battles on track (losing his ride in 2013) and off track (his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, is battling ovarian cancer) has helped Ryan put everything in perspective. In December, he didn't have a ride for 2018. Now he has an Xfinity seat with a team that has a strong alliance with a Cup team.
"My goal is to be back in the Cup Series in quality equipment where I can compete and hopefully do what my brother has been able to do," Truex said. "I think this is a really good pathway to get there."
Truex said while he wants to prove to everyone he's a solid driver, he is taking what has been thrown at him as far as the challenge of finding sponsorship and rides.
"I've just got to deal with it and make the best of it," Truex said. "There's no one to blame. I came into the sport at a tough time and if I could have been a few years later, maybe things could have been different."
Truex had to bring money to Kaulig Racing, with companies his family has relationships with through its clamming business. He indicated he didn't have enough money to spend another year in trucks, where it appeared he was building a good rapport with the HRE team.
While he was banking on being back to HRE, Truex knew it would come down to sponsorship.
"Honestly, I love the truck series -- it's just tough to make it work," Truex said. "If I hadn't gotten this deal, I don't know if there was an opportunity for me to go back to the truck series without having to find more sponsorship than I already had."
Now he knows he must take advantage of the opportunity at Kaulig amid the make-or-break feeling.
"I felt like that last year and the year before," Truex said about being on the brink of whether he will have a career in racing. "I know Martin says this a lot -- you never know when your last race or your last good opportunity is going to be.
"Before this past year, I thought mine was already gone. I thought it had come and gone. Now I feel like it's here again. I felt like that last year, too. So, honestly, I think things are going in the right direction."
Others to watch in Xfinity Series
Christopher Bell: The defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, consistently one of the top teams in the series.
Cole Custer: He really started to blossom last year and whipped everyone at Homestead. The team should be stronger in its second season.
Daniel Hemric: The short-track ace now has a year under his belt at RCR. Like Custer, he showed improvement throughout the year.
A different look: The composite body will be an option for all races. It will be interesting to see how the teams handle it and if replacing body panels is as easy as NASCAR says it will be.