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In the Fast Lane with Daniel Suarez

Imagine making the biggest leap of faith move in your life where you had to live in a different place to realize your lifelong aspirations.  Learning a new language, culture, and lifestyle would pose as much challenges to anyone as much as racing at a short track would for the likes of 24-year-old Daniel Suarez of Monterrey, Mexico.

Racing in his second full-time season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, the young racer has already started off this year on a strong note with three top-five finishes and five top-10’s.  As of press time and after the sixth race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway, the Joe Gibbs Racing talent has the points lead for the first time in his stock car racing career.

To say the least, Suarez has accomplished a lot as he focuses on his quest towards becoming a full-time competitive NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.  His maturity has shown with his smart and poised approach in the driver’s seat of his No. 19 Arris/Juniper Networks Toyota Camry, showing patience and biding his time while still showing that flare and aggression needed to be a legitimate contender for wins and the championship in the XFINITY Series.

Suarez is about as polished and conscientious with his driving as much as he is with his interactions with fans and the press.  Despite the great accolades in his stock car career, there is no trace of a huge ego or an overzealous nature.

Suarez pointed how teammate Kyle Busch has helped with his transition to NASCAR.

Suarez pointed how teammate Kyle Busch has helped with his transition to NASCAR.

He’s just as apt to smile and get a good laugh from his peers like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace as he is with knowing when to trade paint or when to make that clean pass for position on race day.  This is a driver who has made great strides with balancing aggression and patience, all signs of a racer who’s ready to head to the next level.

Focused on race wins and this season’s XFINITY Series championship, Suarez has the cool and calm confidence that is seldom found in today’s racers.  If it means going three wide at Daytona to bring home a good top-10 finish or gambling for a shot at the win as evident at the race at Auto Club Speedway, he’s an exciting driver who has most fans and critics looking forward to what he can do as one of the future stars of NASCAR.

Earlier this season, I spoke with Suarez about his prospects about his second full-time season, his expectations and probed more into what makes this young man tick and motivated with each chapter of his racing career.  Without further ado, it’s time that we get “In the Fast Lane with Daniel Suarez!”

Rob Tiongson :  Last season was a solid one for you with eight top-five finishes, 18 top-10 results, and three poles to score a fifth place points finish and Rookie honors.  What’s your expectations heading into this season as you work with new crew chief Scott Graves?

Daniel Suarez :  The expectations are higher.  We have more experiences compared to last year.  We know more about the series, how to race in this series, the racecars, the racetracks and that’s something very important.  Our expectations are higher and I’m looking forward to getting to know more about my crew chief Scott Graves.

RT :  Was it an adjustment to make the jump from the K&N Series to the XFINITY Series or did you find it seamless?

DS :  It was definitely a bigger step.  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.

RT :  You’ve raced a full year of NASCAR XFINITY Series action with a points system lacking the Chase.  NASCAR recently announced a new Chase format for this season.  What’s your take on this and how much does this change your approach with the races this year?

DS :  It’s really interesting.  You have to race a little different than before.  At the end of the day, we want to learn how to race in this Chase format because it’s how they race in the Cup level.  I think that’s the reasoning behind the Chase and it’s going to be more fun for the drivers and more fun for the fans.

RT :  You made some good points.  The championship format is like a preparation for the jump to Sprint Cup racing.  Would you say that’s your argument for those who are against this concept?

DS :  It’s a good step because ultimately, for the young drivers, our goal is to be in the Cup level one day.  If we want to be there, we have to learn exactly the same rules that’s used in the Cup level.  If they’re using the Chase format in the Cup level, we should have the same thing here in the XFINITY Series.

RT :  Great points, Daniel.  It seemed like you really picked up with strong finishes as the series made return trips to tracks like Charlotte, Texas, and Phoenix.  How much of this would you say was a result of you gaining confidence along with the experience you gained at similar circuits throughout the season?

Daniel Suarez is always ready to race be it in XFINITY or in his Truck ride as pictured here. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Daniel Suarez is always ready to race be it in XFINITY or in his Truck ride as pictured here. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

DS :  Those racetracks are good ones for us.  At the beginning of last year, we really didn’t have experience at those racetracks.  Right now, we have a couple of racetracks where we really excel.  I really think that’s given us a lot of confidence and more knowledge with those racetracks in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series.

RT :  You’re one of NASCAR’s promising young racers and a racer who has inspired others in Mexico to pursue a stock car career.  What was it about NASCAR that drew you to the sport and how does it feel to be one of the catalysts for the new era of our sport?

DS :  I like NASCAR a lot.  At the beginning of my career, I didn’t know what to expect or where I would be.  Right now, I think the best drivers in the world are in NASCAR.  There’s very difficult competition and it’s really difficult to find the right, small adjustments for the racecar.  You have to keep up with everything.  Someone else will do something and someone else will do another thing.  I like the way things are done in NASCAR.  When I had the opportunity to get into stock car racing, I think it was the validation of my racing career.

RT :  What had to be the biggest hurdle or challenge you had to overcome with coming from Mexico to making a living here in America to race in NASCAR?

DS :  There were a lot of changes including the language.  Being far away from family was hard.  In general or in NASCAR, it’s everything.   There’s always something different you have to learn.  When I moved to the US, I had to learn a lot of different things.  I look forward to learning and keep getting more experience in our sport.

RT :  What was your first impression of stock car racing and would you say that you enjoy the challenge that’s presented in NASCAR, specifically in the XFINITY Series?

DS :  I think it was a bigger step to make this move from the K&N to XFINTIY Series.  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.

RT :  I know you’ve got a lot of fans worldwide and across the country.  I picked out three fan questions for you – one of your fans, Seanna, wanted to know what you like to do at Bristol?

DS :  Bristol is a hard racetrack but it’s one of the racetracks where if you race hard and physically, it’s a lot of fun.  It’s one of my favorite racetracks.  I’m one of those guys where once I’m at the racetrack, all I want to do is race and get focused on what I need to do.  It’s a small town but honestly I like Bristol a lot.  I always try to go out and hang out with friends.  The most important thing is to be relaxed and get ready to go to the racetrack.

RT :  Hector Corez, a fan of yours, wanted to know what your favorite sport was and do you have a favorite sports team?

DS :  I enjoy watching football (soccer) – I like Motocross, Moto GP as well.

RT :  Mitzi Proffitt wanted to know what one thing you do to keep focused or calm when you race?

Aggressive but smart, Suarez has learned to balance his racing approach. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Aggressive but smart, Suarez has learned to balance his racing approach. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

DS :  You have goals and you have a lot of things that you have to work on.  When you accomplish those, you have to keep working harder with new goals.  There’s always something that you can do to improve to get better.  One of the goals is to do something better each time out.  There’s always something – it’s one of the things I want to do in racing, such as getting better with my lap times, as one of my goals.

RT :  Who are some racers that you’d say have been a great help to you along the way with your stock car career?

DS :  I think, with living here in the United States, I have some good friends in the past few years that have been super helpful to me.  I think some of them, in the last year, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, they’ve been super helpful to learn about the culture and racing here.

RT :  That’s pretty cool because when you find a common bond with your peers, you feel like you belong and you can know your role in the sport.  There’s been a few Mexican drivers over the years like Carlos Contreas who raced a bit in various NASCAR levels.  Did you look up to him or other drivers when you worked your way up to NASCAR?

DS :  When I moved to NASCAR, not many Mexican drivers were in the US.  Maybe before I made the move, they were here but when I came up, they weren’t here.  I didn’t look up to these drivers.

RT :  Which ones did you look up to?

DS :  I didn’t really look up to any drivers.  I was looking more towards myself.  I wanted to learn from the other drivers but it wasn’t like there was one driver I looked up to or tried to be like.

RT :  When you’re not at the racetrack and looking to relax, what’s some of your favorite things to do and which musicians/bands do you enjoy listening to?

DS :  I always try to relax and have fun with everything that I do.  I like to work on old cars and to work with them and have tools in my hands, I really enjoy that a lot when I’m not at the racetrack or shop.  Anything to do with racing is fun.

RT :  Did you actually and watch the Rolex 24 in January?

DS :   Yea, I was with a few friends and we had a pretty good time.  I was watching them on the track and it was fun.

RT :  Would you say that it’s something you’d like to do in the future if Joe Gibbs gave you the OK on that?

DS :  While my focus is on NASCAR, everything with my background in racing, any time I can get the opportunity I can race, I’ll take it.  The Rolex 24 is something I want to do at one point in my career.

RT :  You were one of the first drivers to see Daytona in its renovated, “Daytona Rising” state.  What was your impression of the improvements?

DS :  You have to see it to understand it.  There’s a lot of changes to the racetracks.  For the fans and sponsors, they’re going to love it.  It’s different but cool for our sport.

RT :  If you could pick any track in the world that you could race in any car, which one would it be?

It may not be Monaco, but it has to be cool for Suarez to have raced at Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

It may not be Monaco, but it has to be cool for Suarez to have raced at Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

DS :  That’s a good question.  I’d want to race at Monaco in an open wheel car.  I’m not sure but Monaco would be different.

RT :  Monaco in the dry conditions or in the rain like Aryton Senna liked it?

DS :  Oh, it’s got to be dry conditions for me. (laughs)

RT :  You mentioned in the past how you’re the first in your family to compete in motorsports which is impressive.  How different would your life be if you didn’t make the career choice of being a racecar driver?

DS :  For my whole family, to be involved in racing and to learn about our sport more, it was difficult and different in the beginning but we’re enjoying this journey.  It’d be different.

RT :  I know how there was a segment last year on NBC where you enjoyed going to Japanese restaurants.  What are a few other things that race fans might find surprising about you?

DS :  I like to be in good shape, to work hard in the gym.  I like to ride my bicycle.  That is something that I find important with racing.  I like to work out.

Author’s Notes :  We’d like to thank Daniel Suarez and the kind folks at Joe Gibbs Racing for this interview opportunity.  This was a piece that was enjoyable to do despite it being at a difficult time as my feline friend Spock passed away not too long after this interview was done. Nevertheless, it’s great to talk racing and we wish the best of luck for Daniel and the No. 19 team with their quest to win the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship! Photos (as indicated) accompanying this article are courtesy of Jeremy Thompson – thank you, Jeremy!  This piece is dedicated to Spock, my family, friends, and all of those supporting TPF.

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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