GAFFNEY, S.C. – Ryan Vargas hasn’t been behind the wheel of a race car much this season, but when he has been, he’s made every moment of his on-track time count.
Vargas, in his second year with JD Motorsports with Gary Keller, has one NASCAR Xfinity Series start to his name in 2020 – largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the sports shutdown that followed.
However, that one race served to remind everyone in the garage area that Vargas intends to be a player at the national level for years to come.
The La Mirada, Calif., young gun drove his way well inside the top 10 during the second half of the Pocono Green 225 – running as high as third at one point with his No. 15 Chevrolet – before a last-lap skirmish with the wall caused him to fade back to a 13th-place finish.
While it was still a career-best performance for Vargas, the competitive side of the 19-year-old still wondered what might have been had he not found the wall in the closing moments of the race.
“Pocono was really, really, really, really big, especially to show up after having no laps on the season and go out and do what we did,” Vargas told SPEED SPORT. “I hadn’t driven a single race car or been in a race since November; my only laps this year were during the ARCA test at Daytona (in January). So that whole race was kind of a reassurance that I can do this and that I could drive and that I could still put results up when given the right opportunity.
“We should have finished in the top 10. We didn’t, but man … we should have. And as a team, we’re proud of that.”
Vargas was quick to add that his team’s performance wasn’t a fluke, either, at least not on that day.
“Even before a lot of the frontrunners got in accidents, we were 11th- or 12th-quick, so I think there was still a chance at a top 10 (finish) even before all those guys, scooter-ankled themselves. We were right there,” Vargas noted. “It’s really a testament to what (crew chief Mark) Setzer put on the track that day. We were just a smidge tight all day, but the car drove phenomenal. I was able to get to guys so early in (turn) three compared to everyone around me, to where I was entering the corner, giving it probably 10% brake … just to get the nose down, and that was it. It was game over.
“Every car we caught, I passed within a lap, just about,” Vargas continued. “It was unreal. That car was on rails. I liked the race track. It was just a fun, fun day.”
With no baseline to work off of and having not run a race in eight months, there was no logic to suggest that Vargas would be able to go out and run as well as he did at Pocono.
That simple fact made him relish the performance even more.
“It’s one of those things that you just go and do. It made it sweet for all of us,” he said. “For me, I think the fact that we had no practice honestly helped me, because I would go into Pocono overthinking it and probably end up adjusting us out of the ballpark. In the race, you just kind of have what you have.
“We went with it and it paid off pretty well for us.”
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