Daniel Suárez leans on life lessons to win XFIN­ITY Se­ries

Cecil Whig - - & - By REID SPENCER

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

— Daniel Suárez has al­ways been a quick study—of ne­ces­sity.

When the new­est NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries cham­pion, and the first born out­side the United States, moved from his na­tive Mex­ico to be­come a driver in NASCAR’s national touring se­ries, his com­mand of the English lan­guage was rudi­men­tary, to say the least.

But Suárez learned quickly, pri­mar­ily from Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming.

Sim­i­larly, Suárez has been a vo­ra­cious con­sumer of rac­ing knowl­edge, and he has had am­ple re­sources upon which to draw. As he has come to un­fa­mil­iar race tracks, Suárez has re­lied on ex­ten­sive con­ver­sa­tions with two NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries driv­ers, Cham­pi­onship 4 con­tenders Carl Ed­wards and Kyle Busch, who work un­der the same

HOMESTEAD, FLA.

roof with him at Joe Gibbs Rac­ing.

But knowl­edge is of lit­tle value if you can’t put it into prac­tice, and that’s what Suárez did on Satur­day evening, fly­ing past El­liott Sadler mo­ments af­ter a restart with three laps left in the Ford EcoBoost 300, the race that de­cided the XFIN­ITY cham­pi­onship in that se­ries’ in­au­gu­ral Chase.

Suárez’s dra­matic vic­tory rep­re­sents a de facto broad­en­ing of the scope of NASCAR rac­ing. Ap­prox­i­mately 23 per­cent of so­cial me­dia re­sponses to Satur­day’s race were in Span­ish.

With the cham­pi­onship, Suárez also be­came the first Toy­ota driver other than Busch to win a ti­tle in the se­ries.

Part of Suárez’s learn­ing process was know­ing where to go for in­for­ma­tion. When he needed to im­prove his restarts, he went to the mas­ter.

“Some­one that I re­ally want to thank, as well, is Ron Hor­na­day,” Suárez said. “He helped me early in this year on my restarts. I was hor­ri­ble at it. I was the worst ever out there on my restarts. One day I got the op­por­tu­nity to talk to him.

“I went to his house. He started teach­ing me some good ad­vice, and af­ter that I re­ally felt like I was a dif­fer­ent driver, and tonight, we won a cham­pi­onship and a race be­cause of restarts. I want to thank Ron Hor­na­day big time for all his help.”

When he felt he needed ad­di­tional prepa­ra­tion for the Cham­pi­onship 4 race at Homestead, Suárez opted to run the NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries fi­nale the night be­fore. Be­fore Satur­day’s race, he shared what he learned with crew chief Scott Graves.

“Ac­tu­ally it did help me to race the truck race,” Suárez said. “That was one of the races for sure I wanted to do, but I knew that I was go­ing to be tired. I went to bed last night at 12:30 in the morn­ing, and it was pretty late, and then I had to wake up at 7:30.

“So I didn’t have a lot of hours of sleep, but I had some good in­for­ma­tion, some good in­for­ma­tion that I shared with my crew chief, Scott, and with the guys, with my en­gi­neers, and I feel like that in­for­ma­tion helped us for tonight’s race. Def­i­nitely was some­thing good.”

When he felt that his ca­reer had stalled as he tried to work his way through the ranks of stock car rac­ing on his own, Suárez signed on to NASCAR’s Drive for Di­ver­sity pro­gram and per­se­vered.

‘Lis­ten, five years ago when I moved to the U.S. for the very first time, I tried to do ev­ery­thing by my­self,” Suárez said. “I had a cou­ple of spon­sors from Mex­ico, and re­ally I wanted to race and to be suc­cess­ful, and I went to the K&N Se­ries, and I didn’t speak English, and I tried to do it by my­self, and it just didn’t work out.

“I was learn­ing English but I wasn’t go­ing any­where. I was very, very close to go­ing back to Mex­ico, to my coun­try, be­cause I just didn’t feel like I was good enough. The sec­ond year, I gave my­self another shot with the NASCAR Drive for Di­ver­sity pro­gram. The first year was a lot about adap­ta­tion, a lot of keep learn­ing English, and by the sec­ond part of the year, we were win­ning races. We fin­ished top three like seven times in a row, and we fin­ished third in the cham­pi­onship. Ev­ery­thing started to get much, much bet­ter.”

And on Satur­day evening, it got bet­ter still—so much so that Suárez moved sig­nif­i­cantly closer to his dream of rac­ing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries.

“Well, at the end of the day, that’s the goal, to move with the big guys and to learn from the big guys,” Suárez said. “XFIN­ITY ob­vi­ously is a great se­ries where you get to race with some of the big guys and most of the time with the most im­por­tant driv­ers from Cup, but you never race with all of them.

“So I’m pretty sure that the Cup car is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, and to race with all those guys at the same time is go­ing to be even more dif­fi­cult. But who knows? We have to, like I said be­fore, in the last months and early to­day, we have to fo­cus on to­day—and to­mor­row is go­ing to take care of it­self.”

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