SONOMA, Calif. – At long last, Daniel Suárez and the country of Mexico are NASCAR Cup Series winners.
Suárez’s victory in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway made him the 40th driver to win all three NASCAR national touring divisions and the first foreign driver to do so.
Over the past few years, Formula One’s Sergio Perez and INDYCAR’s Pato O’Ward had their fruitful moments on the top step of the podium. Now, Suárez joins Perez and O’Ward with victories in major motorsports series by bringing home Trackhouse Racing’s third win of the season.
Throughout the final stage, Suárez had to fend off a hungry pack of Ford Mustangs. Notably, the likes of Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick were ready to get the job done in front of an energetic California crowd.
“Honestly, I didn’t care who was behind me. I was just trying to do my race, trying to control what I can control,” Suárez on his competitors. “I knew that Buescher was very strong in the short run. Probably a little bit better than me. But in the middle part of the run I was better than him. In the long run I felt like I was better than him. It was able to play out pretty good right there near the end.”
Perhaps the loudest came from Daniel’s Amigos, who got to enjoy an unforgettable moment long after the 110-lap contest wrapped up.
“That was very, very special. In the very last caution I was already slow on the caution. I was able to see in corner one on the right there was Daniel’s Amigos group there. All of them were cheering, the fans, all of them were excited. That fuels me. That’s energy for me,” said Suárez. “I knew that I wasn’t going to let them down. I was going to push and I was going to do everything in my power to make this happen. Just felt right.
“This morning, I spent an hour and a half with them. Just felt right. I woke up this morning and I was ready to go. Yesterday, we had a long race in the Trucks and I was tired. But it just felt right.”
“California like my second home,” Suárez continued. “The people here are amazing to me. They support me a lot. I just can’t describe how thankful I am for being able to win the first one here in front of my people.”
No doubt, it’ll be a celebration that’ll go deep into the night and throughout the lone off-week for the series as he’ll vacation in Mexico while his girlfriend Julia Piquet will enjoy her time in Brazil.
Once he took the checkered flag, Suárez celebrated with his No. 99 squad and the entire organization. Moreover, Suárez provided a burnout show, punching the piñata and carrying the Mexican flag followed but when the dust settled, teamwork was the name of the game.
“I knew if I stay up front for the first five to seven laps, I was going to be able to control the race. Obviously the last 10, five laps, I was just trying to take care of my tires in case we had a restart. If we had a restart at that point, I knew we were not going to come for tires. It was going to be a track position race,” Suárez commented.
“I was trying to save a little bit, even though my car was already a little tired at the time, but everyone else was tired as well. It worked out great. It was good. My team, my crew chief, everyone did what they had to do. They called the pit stops, everything work out where they were supposed to. We were able to maximize the potential of our car.”
For a long period of time, crew chief Travis Mack worked for top-tier teams such as Hendrick Motorsports. Mack earned his first win as a crew member at Sonoma with Jeff Gordon.
In terms of being a winning crew chief, he did so at Daytona in 2019 for JR Motorsports which happened to be Michael Annett’s maiden Xfinity Series win.
Mack described his emotions of being a Cup winning crew chief.
“This is huge. Just taking it all in today. Really excited for Justin and Daniel, just really excited for all these team guys. I’m the lucky guy that gets to sit on top of the box and watch it all happen,” said Mack.
“I’ve just had so much belief in Daniel and his capability of winning a race. We really believe in each other. You take two guys who have never won a Cup race, put us together, we’re both very, very hungry to win races. This is what you get.”
From the very get-go, Trackhouse Racing has been all about unity, diversity and inclusion. That’s part of co-owner Justin Marks and Pitbull’s mantra.
Marks explained what it meant for the team with Suarez becoming the first Mexican born driver to win a Cup race.
“It’s big for all that. Trackhouse is a race team that anybody and everybody can be a fan of. We’ve made investments in the minority community with Pitbull’s schools, our great night program, our STEM stuff,” said Marks.
“To me this is sort of a representation of what America stands for. It’s a place you can come with big dreams and you can work hard to achieve those dreams. I always say that Daniel is one of one. A Mexican race car driver moving to America, can’t speak the language, to be a NASCAR Cup Series winner, that shows the amazing place we live.
“Not only him, but Jose, our lead engineer from Mexico, wasn’t here today, probably is killing him that he’s not here today. Truly an elite talent. It’s really great to be able to write those stories.”
As alluded by Marks, Suárez’s lead engineer Jose Blasco-Figueroa is also from Mexico but wasn’t there at Sonoma because he was sick.
“He’s a huge part of this team. We’ve been working together for two years. Part of my pit crew are from diversity, as well [as] myself. If it wasn’t for the Drive for Diversity, I don’t think I would be sitting here right now,” Suárez on his engineer.
“Back in 2013 and ’14, they saved my butt. I was about to come back to Mexico. They gave me an opportunity to keep racing in 2013. That kept me alive. I was able to win races that year and keep the momentum going. Before that it was very, very tough. “So it’s been quite a journey. But those tough moments and those ups and downs is what makes this moment so special.”
The final caution came out for Stage 1 winner Kyle Larson on Lap 84. His right front tire came loose, spinning out in turn 3 as his frustrating title defense continues.
Adding insult to injury, the loose wheel will likely mark a month vacation for crew chief Cliff Daniels and other Hendrick Motorsports personnel. The defending race winner crossed the line in 15th.
At that point, Suárez knew he had to put it on the line and the radio chatter remained mostly quiet. It wouldn’t be until he crossed the line that the emotions kicked into high gear.
But first, it was finding the piñata he had to punch, something he hasn’t done since he was a kid.
“I was just trying to stay calm. I knew that it was a big stake on the line, but I was trying to stay calm. I was silent. I wanted to do my thing. I didn’t want too much noise on the radio. I knew what I had to do,” said Suárez.
“I felt like I was controlling well what I could control. If the caution was coming out, welcome, try to go again. I was just trying to stay calm.
“I would say after the white flag is when I got out of control. I just start crying inside the helmet, just thinking about. Especially because I had a big gap. If it wasn’t a big gap, I would be focused. Since I had a big gap, I was just thinking about every single moment that has cost me to be here.
“It’s been a different journey. Every NASCAR driver has had a tough journey. Everyone has a different journey. But my journey is definitely the most different of everyone else, leaving my family, my country, and just coming to a different culture, different language. Thinking of all those things, it makes today very, very special.”
After two agonizing weeks that involved a flip in the Coca-Cola 600 and missing Gateway due to COVID protocols, Chris Buescher had one his better days in the Cup Series.
In a year that RFK Racing has faced insurmountable turmoil, Buescher delivered the goods as a runner-up finish marked the team’s best outing all season.
However, there was still some agonizing disappointment as a shot of snapping a near six-year drought came up 3.849 seconds short.
“I’m just disappointed in myself. Didn’t get the job done there. Apologize to these guys because they put an awesome Fifth Third Bank Mustang underneath me this weekend,” said Buescher.
“Heck of a return. We had a lot of speed. Just struggled for a little bit of long-run speed, wearing rears out. Just didn’t get it done when it counted. It’s an awesome run. Awesome recovery from COTA, what we had there. Everybody back at RFK is doing a great job.
“Hurts to be that close, but congratulations to Suárez. We were trying, trying to get him. Ran out of steam there.”
Rounding out the top-three was Michael McDowell who is no stranger to road racing experience. In spite of having strong showings on the road courses, McDowell has never finished in the top-five.
Sunday’s result also marked his first top-five outside of Daytona and Talladega. Finally, McDowell’s top-five was his first since last spring at Talladega where he also finished third.
“We just fired off a little on the slow side but we were really good on the long run. We started to reel the leaders in there the last five laps but it just took a little too long to get going. I am proud of the entire team,” said McDowell.
“This was a really solid weekend for our Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang. You have to run second, third, fourth, and fifth consistently to put yourself in a position to win a race and we were close today. We just needed a little more on the front end to challenge. I am really proud of everybody’s effort. We are getting closer. We are doing it, week in and week out, so I am really proud of everybody.”
After 16 races, there are now 12 different winners following Suárez’s maiden triumph. Now that a win is under his belt, it’s all about making progress and chase some more wins to become a perennial title contender once playoffs roll along.
“The beautiful part is that we get stronger as we go. If you were asking me that question three months ago, I was going to tell you, man, we have work to do. We have the potential, but we have work to do. Two months ago I was starting to believe more. A month ago I would say, Heck, yeah. Right now, of course we are here,” Suárez commented.
“We just keep getting stronger. I guarantee you in a month from now we’re going to be stronger than right now. We’re going to keep working.
“Today was amazing. We did a lot of things right. But we believed that our car could have been a little bit better. So when you look at the big picture and always try to see yourself as what I could have done better or different, that’s when you become a great team. I feel like we’re on our way there.”
With the premiere series taking an off week, the next stop will be at Nashville Superspeedway for the running of the Ally 400. Live coverage begins Sunday, June 26 at 5:00 p.m. ET on NBC. Larson is the defending race winner.
Stage 1 Results: Larson, Logano, Ky. Busch, Haley, Almirola, Burton, Bilicki, Ku. Busch, Stenhouse Jr. and Ware
Stage 2 Results: Logano, Almirola, Buescher, Suárez, Harvick, Gilliland, Burton, McDowell, Stenhouse Jr. and Blaney
Final Top 10 Results: Suárez, Buescher, McDowell, Harvick, Cindric, Blaney, Chastain, Elliott, Byron and Keselowski