Suarez Wins XFINITY Championship, Makes History in the Process

Daniel Suarez made history on Saturday evening from Homestead-Miami Speedway, winning the Ford EcoBoost 300 from the pole and his first career championship in his second season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.

But that wasn’t history-making stuff. Becoming the first Latin American-born driver to win a championship in one of NASCAR’s top three premier series in America is. And that’s exactly what Suarez did when the checkered flag flew on the 2016 NXS season.

“I’m speechless right now,” Suarez told NBCSN in victory lane. “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.”

The 24-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, capitalized on a late race restart after a Ray Black Jr. spin on lap 190 brought out the final caution of the evening. Some varying strategy by the four Chasers while on pit road led to an interesting final restart of the season.

That restart saw Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones, two of Suarez’s fellow Chase contenders, fall back due to the No. 14 of Cole Whitt staying out on old tires, spinning them on the restart and stacking up the top lane. They finished in sixth and ninth, respectively, in the race, and third and fourth in the championship. Elliott Sadler, who finished third and took two tires compared to the No. 19’s four, finished second in the final standings.

“We didn’t know that (No.) 14 (Whitt) would stay out and jumble up that restart like that,” Sadler told reporters dejectedly. “I wish I’d done a better job on that restart (on lap 198). I guess I’ll be ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ for a while. I knew Daniel had a better car on four tires, but I wish I could have put up a better fight.”

The second-place finish was the best of Sadler’s career. This was his first season with JR Motorsports (along with Allgaier) after spending previous seasons at Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, but came up just short of his first career NASCAR championship.

In previous years, the XFINITY champion has moved to the Cup Series the following year. Last year, Chris Buescher did it (and moved to the No. 34 Cup car). The year before, Chase Elliott did it (and moved to the No. 24 Cup car). The year before, Austin Dillon did it (and moved to the No. 3 Cup car).

But this doesn’t appear to be the case for Suarez. He is expected to remain in the series for another year with sponsorship from Mexico-based company, ARRIS, while his teammate Jones will move to the Cup Series full-time with Furniture Row Racing in 2017.

This win and championship goes a long way for the sport. Suarez is a graduate of the “Drive for Diversity” program, one that has seen names like Larson, Wallace Jr. and others come through. He is the first to win a title. And if you ask him, it won’t be his last.

“It’s a dream,” Suarez’s father Alejandro told NBCSN. “It’s a dream and tomorrow I will tell you (what it feels like).”

“Maybe next year, maybe 2-3 years,” the father went on to say with a smile on his face and tears welling up in his eyes. “But not this year.”