Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursday: Jake Garcia Turning Heads in Rookie Season

Despite missing the first race due to being underage, rookie Jake Garcia has perhaps become an unlikely threat to win the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year.

With a stout rookie class filled with up-and-coming champions such as Nick Sanchez, Taylor Gray and Daniel Dye, Garcia has been able to rack up several strong finishes, seemingly under the radar.

In his five starts thus far on the season, Garcia has three top 10s, including a most recent sixth on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. However, with Sanchez threatening for his first career win for a while, Garcia has largely gone unrecognized. In fact, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Garcia’s team, has had some major improvements this season.

The team’s flagship No. 19 team made a driver change in the offseason, tabbing Christian Eckes to drive in replacement of Derek Kraus, who had been with the team full time since 2020. The addition of Eckes has arguable helped the entire team improve. In six races, Eckes has already nabbed a win this season, the team’s first in the Truck Series, and started out the season with three straight top 10s.

Meanwhile, Garcia’s No. 35, which is essentially the old No. 91 that was piloted by Colby Howard in 2022, started off the season with Chase Elliott at Daytona International Speedway. Elliott gave Garcia confidence in his truck, as he finished 10th in place of the then-17-year-old.

Garcia then backed that up with a 10th-place finish of his own at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on his 18th birthday. After some mid-pack finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Circuit of the Americas, he has reeled off two straight top 10s, finishing fifth at Texas Motor Speedway and the aforementioned sixth-place finish at Bristol.

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Garcia’s strong start to the season is actually a little bit surprising. He attempted six races for MHR last season in a third truck, his No. 35. He made five, failing to qualify for the spring Martinsville Speedway race, and he was only able to nab a best finish of 16th, at the season finale at Phoenix Raceway. However, one could attribute those struggles to MHR spreading its crew thin with three teams instead of two.

Garcia (as well as Gray) was granted a waiver by NASCAR to qualify for the playoffs despite missing a race due to his age, and while it might have been expected that Gray could compete for a playoff spot, Garcia could easily sneak his way in as well. Despite missing the first race, Garcia is currently 15th in the point standings, just 22 points behind Matt DiBenedetto, who is currently the last driver in the playoffs right now.

In the rookie standings, Garcia trails leader Sanchez by just 20 points. Sanchez has run up front quite a bit but has four finishes of 16th or worse due to one circumstance or another. He was the dominant truck at Texas before he was wiped out from the lead in a last-lap crash. But it doesn’t change the fact that Sanchez just has two top 10s thus far and he and his No. 2 team have struggled to put together a complete race.

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This is largely what has left the door open for Garcia to become the top dog in the rookie class. While the rest of the rookie class has struggled to run up front, the race for Rookie of the Year so far seems to be between Sanchez and Garcia, and this weekend at Martinsville might be an opportunity for Garcia to close the gap or even take the rookie point lead away from Sanchez should the latter continue his struggles of completing races.

But regardless of what happens, team owner Bill McAnally has to be happy with what his team is doing, especially the young 18-year-old. His team lineup might be set for years to come, and MHR as a whole might become a championship contender for the first time since it entered the series with Kraus in 2020.

About the author


Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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