That’s when Dale Earnhardt Jr. struck. He retweeted the post to his roughly 2.4 million followers.
Near the end of his 19-minute interview, Truex held up his phone. The screen was full of push notifications indicating purchases of the shirt.
“Look, those are all orders. Already,” Truex marveled.
This is regular occurrence for the younger brother of defending Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.
“Dale’s crazy. Every time last year he would tweet a picture of it or something, I’d already be sold out,” Truex said. “So I couldn’t do anything. Or I’d have 20 left and he’d do that and they’re gone instantly.”
On the gray shirt, an outline of his No. 11 Chevrolet is located beneath a simple, lowercase slogan: “go ryan.”
Last year, the outline was of his No. 16 truck he drove for Hattori Racing in the Camping World Truck Series.
It’s a simple design, but one the 25-year-old driver has wanted his entire career.
“I’ve never had my own T-shirts at all,” Truex said. “You know, like the crazy NASCAR design ones you see that every driver has. The ones that have the race cars on them and all the crazy graphics. I never even had that when I was racing Legends cars, late models, anything. I always wanted it, but I wanted it to be different.”
It’s helped him show come out of his shell.
“I was kind of an introvert and kept to my self, didn’t really talk to anybody,” Truex said. “I always thought if I was good and I was fast, I’d be fine. Everything else would work out. When I started out in the K&N Series I had never once done an interview in my life. And I won a race and I was in front of cameras and I had no idea … I was honestly like Ricky Bobby. His first interview, that was me. I had no idea what I was doing. Honestly, I’ve learned a lot just by doing it and experiencing it.
“As I’ve been around and started to learn how to show my personality more and shown who I am on social media and stuff, people have liked it. Even these shirts, I just made it.”
Truex, who will compete in his first full-time Xfinity season this year despite having 39 starts, first came up with the design in 2016, his first year driving for Hattori Racing. But he thought there was “no way people would like this.”
“I just kept it,” Truex said. “It sat for a year and then finally I just put a 16 on it and put it out there and it was a hit.”
Thanks in part to NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver.
“If it weren’t for him, I don’t know,” Truex said. “I don’t know if people would have liked it as much. Dale’s awesome. He’s good friend.”
“Really excites me for the future,” Truex said. “I’m annoying. I’ve just been kind of floating around the past few years and bugging people, trying to keep my name out there and doing everything I can and luckily it’s worked out.”
Truex said getting the deal with Kaulig Racing was “kind of roller coaster,” with him not thinking it would get done at one point.
“I’m honestly glad it’s done and we can focus on going out and performing and doing our jobs,” Truex said.
Last year was Truex’s first full-time season in the Truck Series. He earned eight top fives, 13 top 10s and two poles. He finished the season ninth in the standings.
Koch, in his second season with Kaulig Racing, earned five top 10s and his first pole (Talladega). He made the playoffs but failed to advance out of the first round, finishing 11th.
Truex has 39 Xfinity starts since 2010. He has two top fives with a best finish of second in 2012 at Dover from the pole. That race was one of 13 Truex competed in for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Truex won back-to-back K&N Pro Series East championships in 2009 and 2010.
“When we started this team two years ago I knew we had the potential to be one of the strongest teams in the Xfinity Series and I think we’re within reach of that goal,” team owner Matt Kaulig said in a press release. “Ryan is going to be a great addition to the team and I have some high hopes for this season. Each year we keep improving as a team and I think this season we’ll be able to get some wins and make another run in the playoffs. Everyone at Kaulig Racing is excited to have Ryan on board and it should be a great, fun year.”
Kaulig Racing is part of a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
“Luckily having the Childress ecosystem around us I can go talk to Austin (Dillon), talk to Ty (Dillon), talk to (Daniel) Hemric, and get their insights and what they think I need to do or what I need to change to get used to these cars,” Truex said.
Kaulig is also the CEO and owner of LeafFilter Gutter Protection, which was the primary sponsor for Koch the last two seasons.
On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive,” Kaulig said that Bar Harbor Sea Food, which backed Truex in the Truck Series, will be his primary sponsor with LeafFilter still involved in some capacity. Other sponsorship will be announced at a later date.
Also appearing on the “The Morning Drive,” Koch said LeafFilter Gutter Protection not returning as the primary sponsor is why he’s no longer driving the No. 11.
“I knew they were looking (for a driver with a sponsor),” Koch said. “I didn’t have time to get one, really. I got the official word a couple of days ago, but I pretty much knew in mid-December that I was going to have to figure something out. So it wasn’t a complete shock, because everything wasn’t officially done until yesterday.”
Koch said there is no hard feelings between him and Kaulig.
“I don’t want people mad at Matt Kaulig thinking he kicked me out,” Koch said. “This is a mutual thing. We talked and Matt owns LeafFilter. He was putting a lot of his own money into having me drive a race car. You just can’t do that forever.”
On “The Morning Drive,” Kaulig said the team is adding 15,000 square feet to its shop in Welcome, North Carolina, which is on the RCR campus, and it plans to field a second car this season.
Kaulig said there’s a “100 percent chance” he’d bring Koch back to drive the second car, but added there’s no hard date for when the second team needs to be in operation, saying it may not make its first start until a few races into the season.
“We’re shopping the second car right now, but we won’t run the second car without sponsorship,” Kaulig said.
A year later, the young man who had grown up racing dirt bikes attended his first race, the Daytona 500. It ended far less dramatically.
“I remember sitting on the back straightaway in grandstands, pouring down rain,” Koch told NBC Sports. “Sitting there, not knowing if they were going to go green or not because I didn’t have a headset. I was just sitting there. We were with friends. They called the race and Matt Kenseth won. Then we sat in the parking lot for two hours. We couldn’t get out. … I did tell (my wife) we were going to do something different for parking the next time.”
Nine years later, the 31-year-old driver for Kaulig Racing earned his first NASCAR pole for the May 6 Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway. It came in his 189th start.
It was the first pole for Kaulig Racing, which competed in its inaugural season last year.
“Going through my mind was doing everything I possible could perfectly,” Koch said. “We ended up doing that and qualifying on the pole by a tenth. It was incredible, man. It was a cooler feeling than I thought it would be to get my first pole. Just how excited the team was. Man, at Talladega. That stat sticks with you for life. ‘I won the pole at Talladega.’ Everybody knows what Talladega is.”
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
NBC Sports: What track would you have expected to get your first pole?
Koch: A short track, any short track, really. Phoenix, Richmond, Iowa, New Hampshire. I feel like we qualify really well at the short tracks. But you know what, we go to Michigan, we go to Pocono, we’re always in the final rounds there. I knew it would come, I just didn’t know where it’d come. I absolutely didn’t think it would come at Talladega for some reason. We really don’t focus that much on single-car speed or single-car runs. We always make my car drive good in the draft. We have good notes from it. The crazy thing, man, is my car drove even better in the pack then it ever had. I had the fastest car there by itself and in the pack, it’s the best car I’ve ever had. We just had a really good car and it’s a shame that thing got torn up. But it’ll be ready for 2018 Daytona.
NBC Sports: A few days ago on Twitter you posted a picture, which you said was from six years ago or so, of you on a rooftop watering it down. What’s the context of that picture?
Koch: It was the beginning of 2011. My mom sent that to me because it popped up on her Facebook, ‘6 years ago today.’ In 2011 I was racing in the Xfinity Series, but I still had to work four days a week because I wasn’t getting paid to race at that point. I still had to make my living off the track. Those are sacrifices you have to make to get into the sport. There’s not very many seats available in NASCAR. When an opportunity comes, you take it and make the most of it. Even if you don’t get paid for a little while. I owned a pressure washer business with my stepdad and it was called Eco Clean Pressure Washing.
What I did Monday through Thursday, we went to different houses and I climbed on the roofs and we pressure washed the roofs in Florida. Then hopped on a plane Thursday afternoon and fly to the racetrack. My mom basically posted it because she was proud of how far I’ve come in the last six years or so. It’s just a cool reminder. And I wanted to post it because I’m always impassioned no matter what I do and I gave it 100 percent, no matter if I’m in NASCAR or on top of roofs cleaning it. I take passion and pride in everything I do.
My mom said this pic came up on her facebook from 6 years ago. That was my job then. I was proud of it and took pride in it. pic.twitter.com/0WnXvA04eJ
NBC Sports: When did you finally step away from power washing full-time?
Koch: When me and my wife decided to move up to North Carolina and really pursue NASCAR all in. You can’t just try a little bit to make it. You won’t make it. If we hadn’t of moved to North Carolina and fully committed, I wouldn’t have made it, man. If I had a plan B, I probably would have taken it a long time ago. So when we moved up here and my wife quit her job and we moved up here without our family I had no option than to work harder than everybody else try to take advantage of every opportunity I had, and I was able to start making money driving race cars, whether it was racing or start-and-parking or spotting, I used to drive my buddies’ motor home to the track. So whatever I had to do to make ends meet is basically what I did and that led me to just staying in the sport over the years to be in a position to meet Matt Kaulig, who really took my career to a whole new level to start Kaulig Racing and sponsor me with Leaf Gutter Protection.
NBC Sports: What was your first car?
Koch: My first car was a 1998 Ford F150. … My mom bought the truck because I grew up racing dirt bikes, so we needed a pickup truck to put the dirt bike in the back of it and go practice and go race. By the time I was 16, she didn’t want to drive a pickup truck anymore, so she wanted to buy a car and I … basically took over the truck payments and I drove that F-150 for a couple of years.
NBC Sports: If you had a day where you didn’t have to be at the track or shop, your family was busy and you had no other obligations, how would you spend your day?
Koch: Oh man, it depends where I live. If I lived in Florida, I would go out on a boat and go deep-sea fishing from sunrise to sunset, all day long. That is what I love to do if I have any free time, is to go fishing out in the ocean. If I lived in North Carolina, my family was out-of-town, I had nothing to do. I would probably go golf right now. I’d go work on getting better at golf. I’d probably spend half the day at GoPro Motorplex and the other half of the day on the gold course.
NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?
Koch: It would definitely be “Welcome to my House” by Flo Rida. I feel like that fits in the intro song at Bristol perfectly.
NBC Sports: What’s your attachment to that song?
Koch: I got to meet Flo Rida a couple of years ago through one of our mutual sponsors and that is just a catchy song, it’s fun. My son loves that song. It’s all about confidence. He’s all ‘welcome to my house. You guys are all in my house.’ I feel if you’re running a Cup race at Bristol and you wanted to win, that’s the attitude you’ve got to take.
NBC Sports: What’s the most fun race you’ve ever been a part of?
Koch: You know what was fun? When we could tandem draft at the super speedways. I know we’re never going to do it again and it was dangerous. It was at Talladega and we had other drivers’ radio frequencies in the car. I think this was 2011 or 2012. That was really fun when you could team up with your buddy or somebody you liked or somebody you chose to and have them push you through the field and talk to them at the same time. That was really, really cool and I was glad I was able to experience that because I might never be able to experience that again.
NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?
Koch: Me and my wife have talked about going to Hawaii for our 10-year anniversary. So I’d have to say going to Hawaii is a bucket list item that I can see happening in the near future. We’re going to work towards making it happen. Hawaii on the movies and everything you see looks like the coolest place ever. And I’m not one that really likes to sight see or go different places and experience different things, but for some reason I really want to go to Hawaii and check it out.
This is the first year K&N teams have been allowed to use the new number layout. NASCAR updated its rulebook for the series on March 9 with a bulletin allowing numbers and other forms of identification to be on the quarter panels. The format is also permitted in the Canadian-based Pinty’s Series.
The custom look for Koch’s No. 11 Chevrolet was made specifically for Tuesday’s Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The black car with sponsor Leaf Filter on each side stood out among other cars which paced the track in either plain black or gray or the car’s normal paint scheme.
“(General manager and crew chief) Chris Rice sent me a picture of that design before Harrison Burton announced his paint scheme,” Koch told NBC Sports between test runs Tuesday. “I really like Harrison’s. Anything you can do to make your sponsor bigger on the car is a plus.”
Kaulig Racing didn’t have to get any permission from NASCAR to have fun with its paint scheme for Tuesday.
“I’m not too sure NASCAR is ready to go to this style change yet,” Koch said. “But you never know. In the future, I think it’s great to be able to have the sponsor big. And it looks cool for our test car. Just something a little bit different to grab some attention on social media.”