For the first time in history, a foreign-born driver has clinched a NASCAR national series championship.
On Saturday night under the lights during the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Daniel Suárez drove the race of his lifetime. The Monterrey, Mexico native led the field to the green flag for the Ford EcoBoost 300 after winning the pole earlier in the day. Despite starting first and finishing first, winning was never a certainty throughout the event for Suárez.
Justin Allgaier, Erik Jones, and Elliott Sadler were the three drivers that Suárez had to compete against for the title – and they all gave him a strong run for the money. In one of the most intense races in NASCAR history, the final four showcased true “Game 7” determination on Saturday night. At one point in the race as the laps were beginning to wind down, the front four in the running order were the four championship eligible drivers. Jones, Allgaier, Suárez and Sadler were swapping positions back and forth for multiple laps; sending the intensity meter to an all-time high.
The caution flag flew late in the race, setting up a three-lap shootout to close out the 2016 season. Jones got held up behind a slower car on the restart, impeding his chances at the championship. Meanwhile, Suárez was able to get by Sadler and shot out to the race lead. As the checkered flag was displayed, Suárez drove his No.19 ARRIS Toyota to the race and championship victory.
“To win here in Homestead, and to have a lot of fans and people from Latin America and Mexicans all over the Latin America is something great for me,” said Suárez, who is still working on his English. “I have my mom, my dad, my family from Houston, my friends from Mexico… a lot of friends were here. More than 30 people were here, just to have fun with me and to enjoy this weekend. What a better way to finish.”
Suárez’s championship is a historic moment for the sport. In 68 years of racing history, no foreign-born driver has ever accomplished what Suárez did Saturday night – and the Mexico-native was all-but speechless as he hoisted the championship trophy.
“Man, I don’t think I can speak English right now,” said Suárez after the race. “My family worked super hard since I was eleven years old to give me the right equipment, to get better, and to be able one day to do this. I’m just very proud of this team, everyone that has been helping me to get to this point. All my sponsors, my friends, everybody in Mexico – I just can’t believe it.”
Joe Gibbs, Suárez’s team owner, couldn’t have been more proud of what his driver accomplished. Gibbs was full of smiles after the race and said he believes Suarez has the potential to become a idol for kids all around the globe.
“I think that is what is neat about our sport – is that young people can actually look at him,” said Gibbs after the race. “He can become a star from them knowing that he is not going to embarrass them, his sponsor, or anybody else because he is that kind of person.”
Aside from capturing the title, Suárez also became the first graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program to win a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.
A spectacular race capped off by a historic championship – it would be hard to imagine anyone leaving the track Saturday night not feeling like they got their money’s worth.