Mex­i­can driver Daniel Suarez earns ma­jor vic­tory

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By REID SPENCER

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

— Daniel Suarez was speech­less—and jus­ti­fi­ably so.

The Mex­i­can driver had just passed Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team­mate Kyle Busch for the lead on the next-to-last lap and held on to win Satur­day’s Me­nards 250 pre­sented by Valvo­line NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries race at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way by .280 sec­onds over the man who sets the stan­dard in the se­ries.

The first Mex­i­can-born driver to win a NASCAR na­tional se­ries race, Suarez over­came a pit road speed­ing penalty as­sessed on Lap 29 of 125 un­der the first of three cau­tions. He restarted eighth af­ter the third caution on Lap 91, caught and passed El­liott Sadler for sec­ond place with 10 laps left and ran down Busch for the lead on Lap 124.

“I just have no words,” said Suarez, an alum­nus of NASCAR’s Drive for Di­ver­sity and NASCAR Next pro­grams. “I don’t think I can speak English or Span­ish right now. I have no words for what I’m feel­ing right now.

“This ma­chine is un­be­liev­able. It’s un­be­liev­ably fast—def­i­nitely the fastest car out there. I have no words to de­scribe what I’m feel­ing right now. It’s just un­be­liev­able.”

Though Suarez was rev­el­ing in the mo­ment, he made spe­cial men­tion of JGR team­mate and fourth­place fin­isher Erik Jones, whose fa­ther passed away at age 53 on Tues­day af­ter a brief bat­tle with can­cer. Erik’s No. 20 Toy­ota car­ried the name of his fa­ther, Dave Jones,

BROOK­LYN, MICH.

painted above the win­dow of his car.

“I would like to ded­i­cate this vic­tory to Erik and his fam­ily,” Suarez said.

Be­hind Suarez and Busch, Paul Me­nard fin­ished third, fol­lowed by Jones and Sadler.

In pass­ing Busch for the win, Suarez beat the best. Busch holds the XFIN­ITY Se­ries record for vic­to­ries with 80. And Busch has been a will­ing men­tor to Suarez, who also drives a lim­ited sched­ule for Kyle Busch Mo­tor­sports in the NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries.

“The Kyle Busch School of Charm fin­ished 1-2-4 to­day, so not too bad,” said Busch, who led 88 laps. “Ob­vi­ously we want to win. We thought we should have won. We had the best car for the ma­jor­ity of the race there, but not the last 20 laps or so—just got re­ally loose on me.

“But con­grat­u­la­tions to Daniel Suarez. He earned that one. It’s cool to see. It’s a lit­tle bit­ter­sweet to lose like that, but it’s all right. It’s one of my stu­dents. So the stu­dent beat the teacher to­day.”

The speed­ing penalty wasn’t the only ob­sta­cle Suarez had to over­come. As he was work­ing his way back to the front af­ter the in­frac­tion, the clutch in his No. 19 Toy­ota failed, caus­ing the car to stall dur­ing a green-flag pit stop on Lap 71.

“In the sec­ond half of the race, the clutch was gone,” said Suarez, who in­creased his lead in the se- ries stand­ings to 18 points over Sadler.

For­tu­nately for Suarez, the clutch wasn’t an is­sue over the fi­nal 33 laps as he chased and ul­ti­mately over­took Busch.

“He made a state­ment to­day that he’s the real deal,” said Dale Earn­hardt Jr., who served as a guest com­men­ta­tor on the Fox Sports 1 broad­cast. “I think a lot of peo­ple knew that, but if they didn’t, they found out to­day.”

GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR

Daniel Suarez cel­e­brates in vic­tory lane af­ter win­ning the NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries Me­nards 250 at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way on Satur­day in Brook­lyn, Mich.

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