Ryan Vargas is set to compete at Darlington Raceway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the first time this Saturday. He talked with Beyond the Flag about the upcoming race.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series is set to compete at Darlington Raceway in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 this Labor Day weekend. The 147-lap race around the 1.366-mile (2.198-kilometer) oval in Darlington, South Carolina will be the second race for the series there this season.
Driving the #6 JD Motorsports Chevrolet in this race will be Ryan Vargas. The 19-year-old is set to make his sixth career Xfinity Series start in this race, but it will be his first race at Darlington Raceway. He drives part-time for JD Motorsports and competed at Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway earlier this year.
Prior to the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200, Vargas spoke with Beyond the Flag about his first race at Darlington Raceway, his #6 Chevrolet throwback paint scheme, and his time with JD Motorsports thus far.
Mark Kristl, Beyond the Flag (BTF): What are your expectations for the race?
Ryan Vargas: It’s a really fun old race track. My goal is to try to keep the car in one piece, avoid the wall as much as possible – hopefully, the entire race – finish in one piece, and have a good day. Everybody has one race up on me there since we returned [after the COVID-19 pandemic began]. It’s a unique circumstance this year with me racing there without any prior laps. It’s going to be tough, interesting, but I’m excited to go. Darlington is personally one of my favorite tracks so going there for the first time will be a lot of fun.
BTF: Do you have a goal position in mind? In your Xfinity Series career, you have three top 20 finishes in five starts.
Vargas: It’ll be one of those races where I’ll see where I finish up at the end. The first goal is to finish. If you finish first, you must finish. That’s my motto. I’m still so fresh to everything. This will only be my sixth career start compared to the rest of the field who already have 22 starts this year alone. It will be a big learning curve for me to jump into this race car at a track I’ve never been to, then take the green flag. It’s all about being there at the end; we’ll see where that puts us.
BTF: Why is it one of your personal favorite tracks?
Vargas: Mainly because of the history behind it. It’s one of the longest-lasting tracks on the schedule as well as the whole throwback theme behind it. I also really like how it’s raced running right up against the fence. It’s one of the most difficult challenging tracks on the circuit. It’s definitely not an easy task to get around that place. I’m really excited about all those.
BTF: How have you then prepared for this race?
Vargas: I’ve been studying a lot of footage, doing a lot of iRacing, and talking with a lot of other people. I’ve really leaned on my teammates and my roommate Myatt Snider [also a full-time Xfinity Series driver]. Seeing what I can learn so I don’t go into the weekend completely blind.
BTF: Without any practice or qualifying sessions for the rest of the year, how do you feel when you take the green flag and drive into turn one?
Vargas: I really have enjoyed not having practice or qualifying this year. But, this is one of the few times all year where that’s really going to bite me. I don’t have those laps compared there compared to everyone else this year. It’s definitely going to be an interesting difficult task. I’ve really enjoyed how it all plays out because of that. There will still be attrition at the beginning of the race as drivers are figuring out their cars. Yeah, people are bringing the same stuff but it does change. It’s going to be an interesting situation going into that race and I’m really excited about it.
BTF: How does Darlington Raceway compare to the other tracks you’ve raced at, in any series?
Vargas: I assume Darlington is one of those places where you have to hustle a lot more. It’s not a small track by any means. You’re carrying a lot of speed into the corners, you’re running inches away from the fence so you really have to keep that in mind as you really muscle that car around.
With the Xfinity Series car aero package as well, we have low downforce and moderately sized engines. We’re really up on the wheel. I’m excited; I love tracks where there is attrition like that, tracks where you have to keep the tires beneath you. It’s going to be tough but fun.
When you’re in a situation like we are at JD Motorsports, doing good is one thing but it’s all about bringing the car home in one piece. That’s the biggest reward at the end of the day. We want to use that car again down the road.
BTF: Darlington Raceway is abrasive on tires and equipment. Are you going to have all sticker tires for the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200?
Vargas: I don’t entirely know. We might be in a situation where we have to [have all sticker tires]. Because the Xfinity Series race is the first race of the Darlington race weekend, I may have a full allotment. There may be a time where we bolt on a set of tires we used at the beginning of the race. It’d be an unfortunate situation for me but it’s hopefully the start of a long career in the sport. However, whether I will have all brand new tires remains up in the air.
BTF: You’re driving a throwback paint scheme honoring Jimmie Johnson’s first Xfinity Series win.
Why did you choose that paint scheme?
Vargas: It worked with the JD Motorsports red! [chuckling]. It’s a really cool paint scheme. I’m a huge Jimmie Johnson fan myself. I grew up watching Jimmie race at Auto Club Speedway. Growing up in California, he was the driver to root for. To see him race at Darlington one more time, any way to honor him as a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who has represented the sport so well for so many years, I wanted to race something to honor him. To throw back to his first Xfinity Series win – it was the one which set it all off for him. That’s really special.
BTF: Have you personally met Jimmie Johnson? Moreover, what have you learned from him?
Vargas: Unfortunately, I have not met him yet. I know many of the drivers in the Cup Series field. Jimmie is one of the few who I have not yet talked to but I would love to meet him one day.
The biggest thing Jimmie Johnson has showcased has been his ultimate professionalism, on and off the track. I’ve really just taken that to heart. We don’t have the big funds nor do we have big sponsors. I’m figuring all this out little by little. I’ve been close to losing it all in the sport. I’ve relied on my work ethic and how I treat others to get me through the sport. It’s something I respect a lot about Jimmie Johnson and something I try to utilize every day.
BTF: That’s an admirable quality for sure. JD Motorsports has a youth movement, with rookie Jesse Little, 18-year-old Colby Howard, and yourself all competing this season. How has it been being a part of its young driver core?
Vargas: When I raced last year at Iowa Speedway, I was then the youngest driver to race for JD Motorsports. It’s been a really cool opportunity. I truly enjoy working with the guys at JD Motorsports. They’ve opened a lot of doors for me in this sport. Years ago, I never would have dreamt of racing in the Xfinity Series, yet here we are today.
On the races where I’m not driving, I’m part of the road crew. I help the team out as much as I can with the cars, so I’m learning as much as I can. Off the track, I keep working hard so when I’m in the car, it becomes second nature.
BTF: If you don’t mind my asking, what then do you do during the work week, i.e. Monday through Friday?
Vargas: I handle my own stuff. I work on sponsorship, make phone calls, and conduct business meetings. Then, I work out to keep myself in shape so when I do get the opportunity to race, whether that be a scheduled race or a driver becomes sick and the team needs a replacement. While no one wishes a competitor gets sick, it’s the nature of the beast in these times. You always need to be prepared, continue working, and be ready for the next opportunity.
I embrace this role I have with the team. I think it’s the beginning of something truly awesome.
Ryan Vargas was unable to reveal any more of his races this season, but he assured Beyond the Flag he would be back behind the wheel of a JD Motorsports Chevrolet later this year. The Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 is set to be broadcast live from Darlington Raceway on NBC beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 5.