Suarez be­comes Xfin­ity cham­pion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Mark Long The As­so­ci­ated Press

El campeon!

Daniel Suarez won the Xfin­ity Se­ries sea­son fi­nale and ti­tle at Homestead-Mi­ami Speed­way on Satur­day, be­com­ing the first for­eign cham­pion in a NASCAR na­tional se­ries.

The 24-year-old Mex­i­can bested fel­low cham­pi­onship con­tenders El­liott Sadler, Justin All­gaier and Erik Jones on a botched restart with three laps to go.

“It’s very hard to put into words,” Suarez said. “I’m speech­less right now. I’m just very proud of every­one and thank­ful to have the fam­ily that I have, my mom, my dad. They gave me all the tools to be here right now. They put me in a car even when we didn’t have the sup­port or the rac­ing back­ground. They sup­ported me, and right now we are just liv­ing a dream.”

Suarez thanked fans and his na­tive coun­try in Span­ish in vic­tory lane. His win was the first of the week­end for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, which has two driv­ers — Kyle Busch and Carl Ed­wards — vy­ing for the Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship Sun­day.

“For us, af­ter two years, to be where we are tonight is amaz­ing,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “This is go­ing to be a big deal for our sport. It’s huge.”

It was just Suarez’s third ca­reer vic­tory, but the most im­por­tant for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

Sadler, who gam­bled by tak­ing two tires on the fi­nal pit stop, fin­ished third in the race and sec­ond in the stand­ings. The for­mer Cup driver and sen­ti­men­tal fa­vorite re­mained with­out a cham­pi­onship at any na­tional level in a ca­reer span­ning more than two decades.

“This is by far the hard­est be­cause I feel like this is the best team I’ve prob­a­bly ever worked with,” said Sadler, who drove with an in­terim crew chief be­cause his usual one was sus­pended. “We felt like we could come in here and com­pete, and we made a great pit call there at the end to get some clean air.”

Sadler asked Whitt to give him the top lane on the restart, but Whitt de­clined.

All­gaier fin­ished sixth, and Jones ninth. Both got stuck be­hind leader Cole Whitt on the fi­nal restart, and when Whitt spun his worn-out tires, All­gaier and Jones fell way be­hind Suarez.

“It’s re­ally frus­trat­ing,” Jones said. “I don’t mean to bag on the guy so much, but it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re up here rac­ing for the cham­pi­onship.’ And maybe we don’t even win it if he pits and lets us move up, but at least we would have had a fair shot at it. I feel like we kind of got robbed of at least our chance to race for it. Yeah, it’s just un­for­tu­nate. It just wasn’t a great sit­u­a­tion al­to­gether.”

The chaos def­i­nitely ben­e­fited Suarez, who passed Sadler low and pulled away from the field. He led 133 of the 200 laps in the race.

Last year’s top rookie in the sec­ond-tier se­ries, Suarez be­gan rac­ing karts in Mex­ico and moved to North Carolina as a teenager to pur­sue a ca­reer at NASCAR’s na­tional level. He had to teach him­self English by watch­ing car­toons on Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion and moved through NASCAR’s Drive for Di­ver­sity pro­gram to land a job with JGR.

Suarez is the first D4D driver to win a cham­pi­onship.

Suarez has soared in his sec­ond sea­son with Gibbs and ben­e­fited when team­mate Jones, the pre-Chase fa­vorite to win the ti­tle. As Jones strug­gled down the stretch, Suarez upped his per­for­mance. He won at Dover to move through the Round of 12 and was run­nerup at Ken­tucky and third at Charlotte. Then, Suarez reg­is­tered fin­ishes of third (Kansas), fifth (Texas) and fifth (Phoenix) to set up his cham­pi­onship-clinch­ing vic­tory at Homestead.

This will surely make him an even bigger star back home. On a re­turn trip to Mex­ico with NASCAR of­fi­cials last month, he was cel­e­brated like he was Dale Earn­hardt Jr.

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