When Daniel Suarez crossed the finish line with the checkered flag waving at Michigan International Speedway in June, he not only experienced the joy of capturing his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race. He triggered celebrations across an entire nation.
Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national series event, marking the latest milestone for the Coca-Cola Racing Family member as he continues to rise through the ranks from humble beginnings.
“It was really cool,” Suarez said of his victory. “It's a feeling that is hard to describe in words. It's years and years of work and finally you can reflect on those years in that moment. It's a really cool feeling. The first one is always one of the most important. It's a feeling I will never forget. My whole team enjoyed it a lot, and it me makes me even more hungry and creates even more excitement.”
The win drew notice from the highest levels of NASCAR, with Chairman and CEO Brian France saying in a statement, “Daniel Suarez has competed in NASCAR for a relatively brief time, yet his impact on the sport has been immeasurable. Combining impressive talent and an incredible personality, Daniel has attracted fans throughout North America… I look forward to watching his career grow, and accomplishments mount, as he battles for a championship this year in the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase.”
The 24-year-old Suarez is currently leading the Xfinity Series points race, with 15 top 10 finishes this season, one year after winning Rookie of the Year honors after a fifth-place point total. With each race, Suarez's confidence continues to rise, and so do the results.
“This year, the expectations were higher,” he says. “We were expecting to have these kinds of results. We are not in a bad position, but we want more. Hopefully, we can be even stronger for the second half of the season.”
Suarez's journey in the NASCAR ranks is both a typical and unique story. Like many other drivers, he grew up cart racing. Only this was in his native Monterrey, Mexico, where NASCAR hasn't made a huge impact. But after a brief stint in Italy driving open-wheel cars, he decided to try his hand in the U.S. His quest was aided greatly by NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, which aims to bring more minorities and women into the sport, and by NASCAR Next, which puts an emphasis on the sport's rising stars.
“When I was moving to the U.S. to follow my dream, I had a few friends race for one year and then come back to Mexico,” Suarez says. “They had a good experience but things didn't work. I was trying to find an opportunity, and thank God we've made it to this point. Hopefully, my winning will help in Mexico and all of Latin America to see there are opportunities for all drivers.”
Suarez has the support and backing of one of the sport's heavyweights in Joe Gibbs Racing, which arguably is NASCAR's strongest ownership group. Suarez says he's “really lucky” to be part of JGR and capitalize on the years of experience between the owners, drivers and crew.
Suarez is also thankful for his relationship with Coca-Cola. He, along with the other family drivers, which include Tony Stewart, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Danica Patrick and fellow NASCAR Xfinity driver, Bubba Wallace, traveled to Atlanta earlier this year to explore the Coke racing archives. But Suarez also has another interesting connection to Coca-Cola.
Before Suarez was born, his mother, Rosy, worked as a receptionist at the Coca-Cola plant near their home in Mexico. She left shortly before giving birth to Daniel, but through his racing, is now back in the Coke family.
“It was one of her first jobs” Suarez recalls. “She was at the front desk, taking care of people who came to the building. Now, she's pretty excited to be part of the Coke family again. Coca-Cola is huge in Mexico."
Suarez has been unbelievably good at the Xfinity level, so the natural question becomes, how long before race fans see one of its brightest young talents on the Sprint Cup stage? For his part, Suarez is keeping cool about the prospect, and enjoying his long and twisting journey to the track.
“Well, we have had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, at the end of the day, we have to keep focused on the right now,” he says. “The future will take care of itself. I'm with the right people, the right team – JGR has been unbelievable for me and that's very hard to find. I feel lucky to be with organization as first-class as this. I'm really happy here (in NASCAR) and I'm really looking forward to staying here for a long time.”
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