Daniel Suarez’s Breakthrough Only a Matter of Time

Some of the greatest moments in sports just need a bit of time before they’re realized in the most dramatic fashion. From the Boston Red Sox’s championship drought ending after 86 years to the Chicago Bulls’ first NBA title in their 25th season,  sometimes, it’s just a matter of time before possibilities become actualities.

In NASCAR, it’s often a wonder when a bright and upcoming racer drives their way into Victory Lane.  That particular driver’s likely been in the spotlight long before they made their way into the most premier level of stock car racing, earning their respect and paying their dues on short tracks in late models or open wheel cars on the dirt tracks of the Midwest.

For 24-year-old Daniel Alejandro Suarez Garza, or simply Daniel Suarez, of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, it was truly a moment that was much anticipated by fellow racers and teams as well as the racing pundits for the past five years.  Suarez’s path to the NASCAR XFINITY Series has been truly a treat to watch with lessons learned complimented by victorious moents.

The young lion scored 10 wins in the NASCAR Mexico Series from 2011-’14 as well as a victory in the K&N Pro Series East in ’13.  There was some seat time with the Camping World Truck Series and a two-race sampling in the XFINITY Series two years ago that set up his current scenario with the Arris Joe Gibbs Racing brigade that started full-time last year.

Sure, it wasn’t exactly a smooth start for Suarez as crashed when qualifying for the season opener at Daytona and wound up crashing in the event en route to a forgettable 39th place finish.  Clearly, he was going to be taken to stock car racing school not only by his competitors but with the tracks of the XFINITY Series like Talladega, Watkins Glen, and Mid-Ohio.

The sun's been shining bright for Daniel Suarez and his No. 19 team.

The sun’s been shining bright for Daniel Suarez and his No. 19 team.

“It was definitely a bigger step,” Suarez said prior to this year’s opener at Daytona.  “It was something where you really had to adapt.  I really think that one of the most important things is to start off at the different race tracks that you’ll compete in the national series.  The racing works a bit different with the K&N teams so you have to try to be successful with that.”

That said, he was undeterred by those challenges as he logged eight top-fives and 18 top-10’s through 33 races en route to a fifth place points finish, winning rookie honors as well as the respect of his peers on the track.  Suddenly, that novice racer looked like a legitimate contender in his re-numbered No. 19 Arris Toyota Camry as a threat to score race victories and for the XFINITY Series title this year.

Save for some hiccups at Texas (16th) and Charlotte (12th), Suarez has been a tour de force with new crew chief Scott Graves, taking 10 top-10’s through the first 12 events of the season.  His strong consistent finishes were good enough to place them atop the XFINITY Series points standings heading into last Saturday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Suffice to say, Suarez had been knocking on the door of the winner’s circle quite a few times in the past couple of years.  A third at Darlington and a runner-up at Bristol last season were proof of Suarez’s abilities to contend for race wins thanks to his experience in the K&N cars as well as the other cars he competed in throughout his career.

Daniel Suarez's moment to shine was much anticipated.

Daniel Suarez’s moment to shine was much anticipated.

“I think it was a bigger step to make this move from the K&N to XFINTIY Series,” Suarez reflected.  “It was a good one.  It was one of the more productive years in my racing career where I learned a lot of good, new things.  We were able to excel to another level.  I think we are ready to start winning races and being more consistent runners at the front.”

Contending for race wins has been a great way to summarize the 2016 season to date for Suarez as he’s been a familiar face at the front of the field.  Podium finishes at Las Vegas and Phoenix were followed by a fourth place result at Fontana, the latter being a race in which Suarez was certainly in position to steal a victory from teammate Kyle Busch before running out of fuel on the final lap.

Michigan was a microcosm of Suarez’s bids for victories with a fast car and dedicated pit crew that wouldn’t allow for bad breaks like a pit road speeding penalty or clutch issue denying them from battling for the checkered flag in the final laps of the Menards 250 presented by Valvoline.

Scored as low as 25th at one point in the race, Suarez and his crew rallied and kept focused on the big prize that seemingly had Kyle Busch’s name on the mantle.  Busch’s No. 18 ride was one of the most dominant cars in the field but it wasn’t the only Joe Gibbs Racing program that came ready to race.

Running inside the top-six in the final 20 laps of the race, Suarez picked off positions like a bandit in the night (a Ken Squier-ism), getting past the likes of Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Paul Menard, and Elliott Sadler before closing the gap on Busch in the final five circuits.

Was this going to be a race that played out like so many for this NASCAR Next alum?  Not a chance because this was a man on a mission and a team that was ready to support their driver’s efforts to be a winner on the XFINITY Series circuit.

As the white flag unfurled, Suarez pulled alongside Busch, getting to the inside line with a strong run heading into turn one.  Unwavering in his pursuit of victory, the young driver stood his ground against the veteran, asserting himself as the leader and en route to a win that was definitely in the making.

All I do is win, win, win, no matter what.

All I do is win, win, win, no matter what.

“Well, to be honest with you, I think the win, it was meant to come any moment,” Suarez said.  “Michigan wasn’t in the list of my favorite racetracks.  Right now it is, but wasn’t in that list.

I felt like we were strong every single weekend.  Every single weekend we had the speed in that 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry.  The only thing we needed was to put all the pieces together, to put a good race together, to try to be strong at the end and put ourselves in a good position.”

Just as Richard Petty once said about being in a position to win and letting circumstances dictate the outcome, Suarez didn’t exactly luck his way into Victory Lane.  This was not a pit strategy victory that’s been a catalyst for some drivers scoring their debut series triumph.

Instead, this was a race in which Suarez, Graves, and his Joe Gibbs team came together, rose above some setbacks, and simply did their jobs like winners do on the playing field.  It took some self convincing and a cool demeanor to find the swagger and confidence needed to finally break through.

“Honestly, a few weeks ago I was putting a lot of pressure to myself to try to win the race, to try to get that victory, try to do it now,” Suarez remarked.  “I felt like that was wrong.  In the last week or so I start to relax a little bit more.  I stopped thinking about it.

I just start try hard to make it happen, but taking the pressure out.  It’s exactly how things start to work out better.  I think I was able to understand that early enough, to try to put my mindset and put myself in the right direction, try to enjoy this victory of Michigan.”

One of the most notable aspects of Suarez’s victory was that it marked the first time that a Mexican born racer won in any of the top-three NASCAR series.  A truly historic moment in stock car racing, it may be the beginning for minorities to take notice and realize that their goals and dreams can be realized with some hard work and dedication.

“I think is going to help, for sure,” Suarez responded when asked how hopeful he was about his win inspiring minorities’ dreams to get into racing.  “If I was going to be in that position, if I was an upcoming driver from Mexico, in the Mexican series, or the national series from the U.S., I would be very excited.  I would be very excited there is another Mexican driver, Latin American driver, in the national series doing something right.  I would be very excited.

Hopefully this can help to show more young drivers out there that they are doing good things and they are trying to follow a dream.  Hopefully that can help to give them a little bit more confidence to come here to the U.S., to get the support from NASCAR.”

Candid and humble, Suarez acknowledged, “Really, I had a lot of support from NASCAR when I came here to the U.S., in the beginning of my racing career, trying to make it happen, pretty much like what we are doing right now.”

The thrill of victory is unlike any other.

The thrill of victory is unlike any other.

For the time being, Suarez will head into this Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway as the series’ most recent race winner. He’s no longer just another driver who’s vying for his first victory but a driver who wants to get his second triumph.

Those who’ve followed Suarez’s journey have seen the potential within this young man to become one of the best drivers in stock car racing.  His passion is matched by the effort and focus he puts forth each race weekend as he’s emerged as a legitimate championship contender heading into the summer months.

With a Chase seed locked up and a team stocked with a fleet of fast racecars, last Saturday’s win for Suarez will not just be a moment in his career.  It is historical, inspirational, expected, and most of all, it is the coronation of a driver who is destined for greatness in NASCAR.

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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