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 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.”