Daniel Suarez Wins At Homestead-Miami To Become The First International NASCAR XFINITY Series Championby Camille Jones November 19, 2016 0 comments
HOMESTEAD, Fla.– Daniel Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR championship, when he captured the victory in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Suarez won the championship after capturing his third victory of the season. The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity driver to win a national series title. In only his second full-time season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Suarez collected 19 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes.
“It’s very hard to put into words,” said Suarez. “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.”
The Championship 4 contenders, Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Erik Jones and Justin Allgaier, had battled for position throughout the entire event, with Suarez dominating much of the race. He led 133 of the 200 laps. With just 10 laps remaining, the caution came out as Ray Black, Jr. spun across the track and into the grass, setting up the Chase contenders for an exciting final restart to decide the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.
Under the final caution, all of the leaders pitted. While most took four tires, Sadler knew his only hope at winning the championship would be through gaining track position by taking only two tires. Sadler succeeded at winning the race off of pit road, but he returned to the track to find that Cole Whitt had stayed out on old tires. Sadler was forced to take the bottom line, even after his No. 1 OneMain team pleaded with the No. 14 crew for the preferred line. When the green flag flew on the restart for the final time in 2016 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Whitt spun his tires, and he could not gain speed.
“I was asking for it,” said Sadler, referring to the low line on the restart. “I was asking for it because with the two tires, you kind of want to be on the high line. I don’t know, Daniel’s car was really fast, but I was going to try to hold him down, and then when the 14 didn’t go on the restart, I actually kind of stopped and hesitated. The green flag was waving, but he really wasn’t going, so I didn’t know really what to do. I was like, man, this is Indy all over again. So I kind of hesitated, and I think that allowed Daniel to get a good run on me and cost me the championship.”
When Whitt spun his ties, he blocked Jones and Allgaier from being able to race for the win. Sadler pulled ahead, but Suarez was able to clear him for the lead. Suarez was then able to take the checkered flag, capturing both the race win and the championship. Suarez also claimed the NASCAR XFINITY Series Manufacturer’s Championship for Toyota.
“To win here in Homestead and to have a lot of fans and people from Latin America, Mexicans, all over Latin America, it’s something great for me,” Suarez said. “And on the side of that, I have my mom, my dad, my family from Houston, my friends from Mexico, my friend Coco over there that I used to race cars with him when I was 13 years old. A lot of friends were here. More than 30 people were here just to have fun with me, to enjoy this weekend, and what a better way to finish this way. I’m just very proud of my team, very proud of everyone that has been helping me to be in this position, and it’s still hard to believe this. It’s still hard to believe this. But we worked hard, and this team really deserves these results.”
Sadler finished in the third position, while due to the circumstances on the final restart. As to be expected, Sadler was disappointed in the outcome of the event, but he accepted the finish and the hard work his team put in to rebound at the end. He finished out the season second in the championship standings.
“Yeah, you know, it was not exactly what we wanted,” Sadler said. “We had to fight back there at the end. We had to make a pit strategy call and put two tires on, and was looking forward to just trying to get some clean air and then try to dictate the restart and see if I could hold these guys off with four tires there at the end, and you just ‑‑ the 14 didn’t go, so I hesitated a little bit, and Daniel did a good job and got a good run on me. I just kind of made a little bit of mistake there on the restart. All in all, it was a good finish for us, but definitely not the goal that we came down here to get.”
Allgaier drove his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro into heated battles for position, he but was disappointed in the final restart, wishing the Championship 4 had been able to battle for the win in the closing laps. Allgaier finished sixth on Saturday night and third in the standings.
“We had some awesome battles throughout the course of the race, and I know before we all put tires on, Erik (Jones) and I had a great battle,” Allgaier said. “It was a lot of fun. Just to run as good as we did tonight, our Brandt Fresh Agriculture team has done a great job all year, but tonight I felt like we did what we had to do and put ourselves in great position and unfortunately just didn’t materialize, didn’t get to race for it at the end, and that’s probably the hardest pill to swallow over tonight.”
Jones felt their race changed over the course of the event, but ultimately they did not end up in a position to claim the victory and championship in his No. 20 GameStop/PowerA Toyota Camry. He ended up finishing in the ninth position and fourth in the standings.
“I mean, didn’t start out the way we wanted to,” said Jones, following the 200-lap event. “Didn’t have the car we needed to at the beginning of the day and really through the mid part of the race. Didn’t get where we needed to be until about lap 150 or so, and the sun started to go down, track cooled down, and our stuff kind of came around to us.”
Jones continued, “After that, I felt like we had a pretty good car. I don’t know if we were quite as good as the 19 or the 7, but we were able to get up there and run the wall a little bit better than those guys were and make some time and chase them down. Had a shot before the last caution came out, but didn’t have any sticker tires remaining after that. It’s a little unfortunate, but it just didn’t work out.”
The full top-10 run down for Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 had Ty Dillon finishing second behind Suarez, followed by Sadler, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Allgaier, Kyle Larson, Brendan Gaughan, Jones and Aric Almirola.
There were 21 lead changes and 11 different leaders throughout the night. Out of the 200 laps, 39 were run under caution as the yellow flag flew on seven occasions on Saturday night.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series will return to action on Saturday, February 25, 2017 at Daytona International Speedway.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images