NASCAR Next Driver Completes Dream Season With Title
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the briefest of moments, Rubén García Jr. thought his championship dream was over.
Instead, it wound up being a mere speedbump during a dream season that saw the 20-year-old rising star claim his first NASCAR championship.
The Mexico City driver had checked up to avoid a wreck in front of him, and got him from behind, sending him spinning. It was during the third of five races in the NASCAR Mexico Series’ Desafio and Garcia, who was leading in points, was in the middle of a multi-car wreck.
But as Garcia looked around, he saw several of his nearest challengers also involved. And as he put the car in gear, he was able to drive away.
Not only did Garcia escaped with minimal internal damage to the car, he found he was actually just as fast after the wreck. Determined to salvage a top 10 finish, he picked off spots throughout the second half of the race. He found himself in the top five in the late stages, and on the front row for a green-white-checkered finish.
Garcia chose the outside lane, got a good run and drove the No. 88 Canels/Scotiabank/HDI Toyota to its third – and most improbable – win of the season.
From there, it was nearly a formality, as Garcia rolled off a 10th and a fourth in the final two races to win the 2015 NASCAR Mexico Series championship.
“To be a champion, you first have to believe you can,” said Garcia, who finished fourth in 2013 and second in 2014. “I started the season with that on my mind. I knew my team was really strong and had the ability to fight for the championship.”
For Garcia, who turned 20 the day before the final race in Tuxtla, it took a little bit for the reality of what he accomplished to set it.
“When I finished the race and I raised the championship trophy, I really did not believe what was happening,” Garcia said. “At the Mexico Series ceremony (earlier this week), when I saw the trophy for the first time with my name on it – that was a big emotional moment for me. And it was the first time I really believed what was happening.”
Garcia also became the youngest winner in series history. The series has been under the NASCAR Mexico banner since 2007 and has produced drivers such as former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver and four-time Mexico champion German Quiroga, as well as 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Daniel Suarez.
The path of Garcia won the Mexico Series’ support division, the V4 series in 2011, before moving up and earning rookie of the year honors in the NASCAR Mexico Series. In 2013, he was selected as a member of the NASCAR Next class, an industry-initiatve to spotlight the sport’s rising young stars.
Garcia finished 2015 with three wins, eight top fives and 12 top 10s in 15 races.
He picked up his first win of the season June 28 at El Dorado Speedway in Chihuahua, and entered the Desafio tied for second after the points were reset. Rain cancelled qualifying in the first round of the playoff, at Chihuahua, and pushed the race to Monday. Garcia led a race-high 168 laps to take the win and the championship points lead.
“That’s when I realized we were the strongest car in the field for the championship,” Garcia said.
He finished third at Aguascalientes, which put him in good position heading to a doubleheader weekend at Mexico City. His plan was to run a clean race Saturday – shooting for a top five or top 10 – and then go for it on Sunday.
That all went out the window with the early-race melee.
“When I stopped, I realized half the field wrecked,” Garcia said. “I looked around me and saw three of the cars around me (in points) were there, too. That’s where I calmed down a little bit. I thought, ‘ let’s see who has less damage on their car.’ When I started running, I realized it was running well.”
The title was extra special for Garcia, whose father has won multiple titles in various racing series and finished second in the Mexico Series in 2006 – the year before it joined NASCAR. Garcia Sr. made nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts in the 1980s and 44 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West starts. He won twice, both times at the former Mesa Marin Speedway in Bakersfield, California.
“He told me something that really meant a lot to me,” said Garcia Jr. “He said he has enjoyed more watching me winning races and the championships than he enjoyed when he was running races.”
Ruben Garcia Jr. dominated the June race at Chihuahua en route to the 2015 NASCR Mexico Series championship. OCESA