By Lee Montgomery
Special to Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
The 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series season began with high hopes for Ryan Truex. He was to drive Pastrana-Waltrip Racing's No. 99 Toyota and was the frontrunner for the series' rookie of the year award.
But Truex, 19, has since come to learn that NASCAR can be a cruel sport.
For starters, Truex and the 99 team didn't run that well early in the season. Then, Truex had surgery on his right wrist to correct an injury from a few years ago that cropped up this season, and he had to sit out a couple of races.
But the worst came in June, when his team was forced to cut back because of a lack of sponsorship. Suddenly, Truex was out of a ride.
"It's been a lot of ups and downs," said Truex, who will drive Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Toyota in Friday's Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway. "The start of the year, I had a lot of confidence going, just with the way we ran last year and the way the 99 ran last year. We went in and struggled quite a bit, and that kinda hurt my confidence."
Truex had only one top-10 finish, at Richmond, before he left the 99 team.
"It was definitely down when I was sitting out for two months not doing anything," Truex said. "But being able to get back in the Gibbs car is really good. And the weekend we had in Atlanta really boosted my confidence a lot."
Truex landed a six-race deal in Gibbs' No. 20, starting at Atlanta last weekend, when he had his best qualifying effort of the season (fourth) and his second-best finish (11th). And that came after not racing anything but backyard go-karts for two months.
Some drivers have disappeared after losing such a high-profile ride so early in their careers, so how did Truex get through it? Having an older brother like Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. helped.
"Having a brother who's gone through all of it and knows what it takes to make it really helps a lot," Truex said. "He's really helped me throughout my career and a lot this year. He's just trying to keep my confidence up and (help me) believe in my ability.
"It's definitely tough, and it's taken a toll on me. I'm just trying to put all that behind me now and focus on these six races. (I want to) go into them with a clean slate, a whole new deal. I'll try to do the best I can and see where we end up."
He hopes that's somewhere in the top 10-and maybe even the top five.
"We can run top-five," Truex said. "They've got the equipment, and I've been to Richmond two times before, so I think I know how to get around there all right. We finished eighth there with the 99 car earlier this year, so that gives me confidence going in.
"And the 20 won there earlier this year (with Denny Hamlin) so that doesn't hurt at all, either. We'll have a great car. We'll go in and take baby steps at it. We'll see what happens."
What: Virginia 529 College Savings 250
Where: Richmond International Raceway; Richmond, Va.
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.
Radio: MRN-Sirius/XM Satellite Ch. 90
Track layout: .75-mile oval
Race distance: 250 laps/187.5 miles
Qualifying: Friday, 4:05 p.m. ET
2010 winner: Kevin Harvick
2010 polesitter: Kevin Harvick
Points standings: 1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 909; 2. Elliott Sadler, 896; 3. Reed Sorenson, 869; 4. Aric Almirola, 845; 5. Justin Allgaier, 840; 6. Jason Leffler, 811; 7. Kenny Wallace, 747; 8. Steve Wallace, 737; 9.Brian Scott, 724; 10. Michael Annett, 711.