By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Despite missing the opening round of the year at Daytona, 18-year-old Jake Garcia is sitting top-15 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point standings. Above the likes of GMS Racing and Thorsport.
The reason? Consistency, among others. The No. 35 McAnally Hilgemann Racing has stacked three top-10 finishes in five races, including a fifth place at Texas Motor Speedway.
Additionally, with no finishes outside the top 20 in 2023, Garcia holds the fifth-highest average finish among the Truck Series full-time field.
Quite the feat for a newbie, and it continued Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway when he drove to a sixth-place finish.
“I think a lot of it is the positive outlook of everybody on the team,” Garcia said. “We all work well together, nobody ever gets frustrated at one another. Everyone is working hard toward the same goal. It’s just a matter of everyone being cohesive. We’re improving every week.”
With only five Truck starts prior to 2023 (all on shorter tracks), this year has been a quick turnaround in learning the full slate of race tracks in national NASCAR.
“A lot of [the team’s improvement] is going to be me,” he said. “A lot of this stuff this year has been a first for me. First intermediate [track], first plate track, first road course, first dirt track.
“Once we get that under my belt and start to get more of a handle on it — the trucks are obviously fast. If I can continue to learn and improve as a driver, we can run up front and definitely contend for wins.
“We don’t make huge mistakes. And when we do make a mistake, we come back from it.”
And Garcia isn’t alone in his pursuit of the race lead. His teammate is Christian Eckes, a champion in the ARCA Racing Series who has already scored a victory for the team this season.
While Garcia has matched Eckes’ three top-10s on the year, he continues to play student to his teammate’s multi-year run.
“[Christian and I] seem to have pretty similar speed,” he said. “Christian was obviously better than us in the beginning of the year and he’s done a great job coaching me and helping figure out this stuff. He’s a great tool for me and a pleasure to work with, he’s really positive and you can tell he’s putting in a lot of effort into what he does.
“It’s good to know you have a teammate who cares.”
Running top 10 in most of his starts this year, the respect has been coming slowly but surely for driver No. 35.
“I think I’ve raced around just about everybody in the field at some point this year,” he said. “We haven’t really made any contact with another racecar but for maybe a handful of times. I’m really proud of that. That’s something I try to do as a racecar driver is to race clean.
“I look forward to gaining respect from these guys as I’m kind of the new kid.”