By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A top-15 finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway was just what the doctor ordered for JD Motorsports’ (JDM) Ryan Vargas.
Entering the Credit Karma Money 250 at Atlanta, Vargas was coming off a stretch of several rough weeks. The 20-year-old was swept up in a hard crash at Pocono Raceway. In that race, he was running a tribute to his car chief, Brian Lear, who passed away on May 31. Vargas was not in the car at Road America, the race after Pocono, meaning his chance to rebound had to wait until Atlanta.
Despite struggling in the early stages of the race at Atlanta, Vargas slowly climbed the running order in his No. 6 MaintenX Chevrolet Camaro SS. The La Mirada, Calif. native narrowly avoided two late-race wrecks on restarts. That allowed him to pick up a few positions and battle with AJ Allmendinger throughout the closing laps. When the checkered flag waved, Vargas crossed the line in 14th.
“It’s a massive confidence booster,” Vargas explained. “In all seriousness, we struggled early in the race, but we just kept working at it. I tried to give the best info I could all day. Kase Kallenbach, my crew chief, he did a really good job all day just keeping up with the track, the changing conditions. As it went on, we just got better and better. By the end of it, I feel like we were possibly a top 20 car. So, to be able to kind of extend that, bring it home P14 is a good day.”
The top-15 finish was Vargas’ first since he scored a top-10 at Texas Motor Speedway last fall. In 2021, it was the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver’s best finish since Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. He finished 16th that weekend.
After the crash at Pocono Raceway, Vargas and his JDM team added a ribbon that honors his grandmother to the car. The ribbon previously brought good luck to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum in 2019 and 2020.
“It means a lot, because the last time I had that on my car was me running the TikTok car and that was arguably one of the best stints of my career,” Vargas stated. “Just kind of looked at how Pocono went it was just an unfortunate situation. And I said, ‘Hey, let’s put this on the car.’ I want to just do something. It worked out very well like that. Hopefully, that continues.
“She’s been a big part of my racing career. We ran that same decal in a larger manner when I was racing Late Models in 2019 and won a good handful of races with it. I think that there’s hopefully something to that.”
— Ryan Vargas (@RyanVargas_23) July 14, 2021
Fan and Industry Support
In the Pocono Green 225 at Pocono, Vargas was collected in an accident with Justin Haley and Sam Mayer on lap 24. Leaving the medical center, the JDM driver was emotional. In that race, he carried a tribute to Lear with the message ‘Every Life is Worth Saving.’
An interview with NASCAR on NBC’s Dave Burns led to a big outreach from race fans and those inside the NASCAR industry. The level of support that Vargas received following that wreck helped him move forward. With that support, he still went to the JDM shop on the following Monday to tear the car down.
“It definitely helped me moving forward past it,” Vargas admitted. “On Monday, I still went to the shop, tore the car down and I’m trying to think of 15 different ways I could have not wrecked. To see that many people respond and the way they did, people that never followed me or never knew who I was, were now fans of me, that was a really [special] opportunity.
“I really got to thank Dave Burns for taking the time to actually interview me because for us mid-pack guys we don’t often get those interviews. For him to take the time and let me tell my story, that was a massive thing. It kind of comes back to show that some of the things that I do outside of the racecar are being seen, and people genuinely care. It’s easy to lose track of what you’re doing and think that nobody really cares or is watching. But when that happened, and I saw the [outreach] from everybody it was [special].”
Remembering Brian Lear
Losing Lear was a big blow for Vargas and the JDM team. As with many teams in NASCAR, the crew members, employees, and drivers at JDM are like a family. Some of the speed that the organization has had in 2021 could be attributed to Lear. The friendship that those at JDM had with Lear can’t be replaced.
“He put his heart in everything, and that was really cool,” Vargas reminisced. “That was really what made him a good person. To lose him was a big loss, not just to the team, but to myself. Like I said, it’s losing a friend, losing a family member pretty much. We jokingly say he probably would have made fun of us for being all sad and stuff like that.”
To date, 2021 has marked the biggest growth for Vargas as a driver. Unlike 2019 and 2020, he’s shifted from competing once a month in the Xfinity Series to nearly every weekend. So far, Vargas has competed in 16 of the 18 races this year. At Circuit of the Americas and Road America, road racing ace Spencer Pumpelly stepped into the car.
In addition to the more regular schedule, Vargas also lined up more partners. Drydene, KSDT, MaintenX, Monarch Roofing, Swan Security, and Alvin Kamara’s The Big Squeezy are just some of the companies that have adorned his Chevrolet Camaro this season. Of the 16 races that Vargas has competed in, his JDM car was wrapped in all but two.
“It’s been a very positive year on the sponsorship side,” Vargas admitted.” We’ve been able to make these deals and make them last. Swan Security started off as a small deal and it’s turned into multiple races, MaintenX has been a massive partner, so has Monarch Roofing, we’re working on stuff with them. It’s continuously growing. I’m continuously trying to seek out new partners as well.
“At the end of the day, it’s always a business and you still got to continue growing and continue facilitating these relationships. I hope that people see what we’re doing, what I’m trying to put together here and, hopefully we’re able to continue racing and just make these things be able to fill up the calendar. I think that’s the big thing. We have most of the upcoming races sold, so that’s good. But there are still some that I do need to figure out and try and sell.”
Currently, Vargas is unsponsored for the Ambetter Get Vaccinated 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS). However, as in the case with Kamara’s The Big Squeezy earlier this year, sponsorship deals could spring up at a moment’s notice.
The NASCAR Next alum has two previous starts at the Loudon, NH track in 2018. In the ARCA Menards Series East (then-NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), Vargas had a best finish of 11th at ‘The Magic Mile.’ Like the Xfinity Series race this weekend, that race weekend did not see traction compound applied to the racing surface.
“Unfortunately, New Hampshire, this weekend is another one of those races where we don’t have anything as of right now,” Vargas stated. “But I’ve been very fortunate to where I believe we’ve only had two races this year where we haven’t had something on the quarter panel.
“Really the goal stays the same every weekend. My job is to go there and have a clean race to bring the car home in one piece. If we’re able to have a run like we did this past weekend at Atlanta, I’d consider that a good day. It’s just all about being consistent and making sure that I do my job as a driver. Just have myself a good clean race, be smart, and just log laps.”
With no practice and the starting line-up based on NASCAR’s metric qualifying formula, Vargas will start the race from 19th. Coverage of the Ambetter Get Vaccinated 200 at NHMS starts at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo.