Ruben Garcia Jr. knows that the clock is ticking.
The 23-year-old Rev Racing driver has been a mainstay in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for the last three years. He’s steadily improved his performance, breaking through to collect his first two career victories last season, respectively. But 2019 will need to be bigger and better for the Mexico City native.
After an offseason that included competing in the Race of Champions for his native country of Mexico and celebrating his second career PEAK Mexico Series championship, he’s ready to get down to business.
“It’s now or never,” Garcia told NASCAR.com. “I think last year was a really good potential building year, and this year is the year where I have to do something to move up. This is my last year on a contract with Rev, so this is the year where I need to make stuff happen. It seems like it’s going to be a pretty good year, and I want to use all the momentum we can keep growing this year that we’d been having since last year.”
Garcia’s two triumphs in the No. 6 car last season helped him earn a career-best third-place finish in the overall standings, improving from fifth the year prior. He also set a career-high for top fives (four) and scored nine top 10’s.
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Last year, the race was for third in points, as DGR Crosley teammates Tyler Ankrum and Tyler Dippel had 1-2 locked up in the standings. Garcia won that race, literally, and came just shy of snagging the runner-up spot.
But this season he is aiming higher.
“I always want to start the year with bigger goals, trying to improve and get better from last season,” he said. “We’re looking to go to Victory Lane a couple of times and looking for a championship or runner up year at least. This is my fourth year working with Steve (Plattenberger), my crew chief, and we understand each other pretty good. We’re going to have some new people working on my car, so maybe that’ll take a couple races to understand how everyone works. But I think we have better equipment than last year. The team has had some upgrades. Since (the team) has two cars, I think that will help the organization. We all can aspire for better goals.”
With an influx of new talent in the series, Garcia finds himself as one of the veterans. Someone who’s raced on these tracks multiple times, has been developing a relationship with Plattenberger atop the pit box and knows what it takes to win races.
On paper, Rev Racing could be looking at its first K&N East championship since Kyle Larson in 2012.
“We already know the tracks we’re really good at, we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing at those places,” Garcia said. “Especially the places where we were running up front and won. But I think Steve and I are pretty good at the moment. We can be honest with each other and say, ‘hey man, at this place I’m not comfortable,’ or ‘this place is rough on me,’ so we can work with each other and make one of those places that we don’t like a lot work way better.”
The duo has had that aha moment a couple times in their tenure, most recently last season. After finishing 12th at Loudon in the spring, they regrouped to challenge for a win at The Magic Mile.
“We did that at New Hampshire last year,” he explained. “Our first race was horrible, and the second race we were running second until we blew a tire. Thats something we’re really good at. It’ll really pay off and it can only happen with someone that you’re working with for a long time.”
Garcia hopes experience will be a factor in setting himself apart from the pack this season. At the season opener at New Smyrna alone, six drivers in the field will be making their first ever K&N Pro Series start. Meanwhile, Garcia has three years, 42 starts and two wins under his belt.
“I always want to believe in myself,” he said. “I don’t want to think that I already have everything I need. Because that’ll mean I can stop working and that’s the worst thing you can do as a driver. You have to keep working and get better every race. But if you want it to happen, you have to believe that it can happen.”
The two-time and reigning PEAK Mexico Series champion is looking to buck the trend of getting out of the box slow. In his previous three starts at the 0.48-mile short track, he has an average finish of 21st (best of 16th in 2017).
“It hasn’t been my best race track,” he said of New Smyrna Speedway with a chuckle. “We’re looking to turn that around this year. Last year we had pretty good speed, but battery problems shut off the car and I couldn’t finish. But I know the season is pretty short. We have to start very good in the first race.”
The New Smyrna 175 is scheduled to kick off the 2019 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season just past 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, February 10 from New Smyrna Speedway.