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VOL. 46 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 24, 2022

Suárez riding high after historic first career win

By Tom Wood

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Daniel Suárez celebrates his victory at Sonoma, the first NASCAR win for a Mexican driver.

-- Photograph Provided

Daniel Suárez and Joey Logano couldn’t have come from more different worlds or backgrounds, born 19 months and more than 3,500 miles apart.

But now, the hard-charging NASCAR stars have more in common than their aggressive driving habits on the track and fun-loving natures off it.

In his 195th career start June 12 at Sonoma Raceway, Suárez earned his first Cup Series triumph to finally join 29-time winner Logano in Victory Lane.

Logano, the 2009 Rookie of the Year, 2015 Daytona 500 winner and 2018 Cup Series champion, has won twice in 2022, including the week before the historic victory for Suárez. Both are among the top contenders to win Sunday’s Ally 400 (4 p.m., NBC) at Nashville Superspeedway.

It was a long-awaited celebration for Suárez, who became NASCAR’s first race winner from Mexico and only the fifth foreign-born driver to win on the circuit.

“We just have to do the things that we’ve been doing the last five weeks. Hopefully the good luck continues to happen because I want to think the bad luck is already out of the way. We got plenty of it in the last five weeks before Sonoma,” says Suárez, 30, who was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico.

He is in his second season driving for Franklin-based Trackhouse Racing, which still has its engine shop in North Carolina. His contract expires after this season but Trackhouse president Ty Norris told Peacock last week that there is a “100% chance” that Suárez will be re-signed.

Suárez recently recounted his long career journey, arriving in the U.S., in 2011.

“Yeah, it was quite a process. There were a few friends – friends of friends, actually – from Mexico that were living in Charlotte. I actually ended up living with some of them for six months,” Suárez recalls.

“Like, in the first six months, I couldn’t even afford to pay for an apartment. I couldn’t live because I didn’t have a Social Security card at the bank. So, throughout the whole process, it was tough because I didn’t have social security, I didn’t have a work visa, I didn’t have the language, I didn’t have money.

“So, it was quite a process and eventually, once I started racing, I started meeting some more people and they started helping me. I remember going to Joey’s house back in 2011 and I couldn’t even talk to him. He was already in the Cup series, and I couldn’t even talk the language. So, it’s quite crazy.”

Suárez credits both Trackhouse Racing and this year’s new Next Gen cars for reviving his career. After winning the 2016 Xfinity Series championship, his career stalled when he failed to qualify for the 2020 Daytona 500 and finished 18th in the points standings.

“I knew that year that I had hit bottom. I have hit bottom in my life only a couple of times and that was one of them,” Suárez recalls. “I knew that it couldn’t get any worse than that – in my mind.

“And for me (2020) was the year to reset. That year was horrible on the racetrack, but it made me where I am right now. It made me extremely tougher. It made me want it more. It made me change direction. It was the reason. That’s exactly what it was. “

And after that, Trackhouse came to the table with an offer to join the up-and-coming team formerly operated by Chip Ganassi Racing. The team has three victories this year, the others by Ross Chastain.

“You know, a lot of people say this – that everything happens for a reason – and it’s true. You also have to work hard. But that year helped me to press that reset button because obviously it wasn’t gonna get any worse on that,” says Suárez, who received more than 1,000 calls and texts after the win – which he celebrated with his “amigos” in Victory Lane by smashing a piñata.

Suárez says he knew it was just a matter of time – with the right team and right car – before he’d get that first win.

“I’ve been always very confident of myself. Like for me, it’s tough for someone to bring me down,” Suárez says. “I know I can drive and I know I can beat those guys. I’m kinda that guy, you know?”

The same description – “that kind of guy” also fits Logano, 32, who is living proof that actions speak louder than words, at least with some of his fellow drivers and a number of race fans. He says aggressive driving is part of his job description but not his character.

“You have to understand what the goal is on the racetrack. What’s the goal? To win. That’s the goal. It’s that simple. It’s not making friends. It’s not, you know, being polite,” says Logano, who was born in Middletown, Connecticut, and now resides just north of Charlotte, North Carolina, as does Suárez.

“It’s about winning for yourself, for your team, for your sponsors, for your fans, your family. That’s what it’s about. So you have to be selfish. You have to be selfish on the racetrack.”

But that aggressiveness ends when the race does, adds Logano, who was in a jovial mood during the interview.

“It’s important you flip that switch when you get out of the car. It’s not a good way to live your life, but in those moments, that is my job and I’m expected to bring a certain level of intensity and a certain level of aggressiveness to go out there and do it,” he points out.

“Does that make people upset? OK. That part doesn’t bother me. It’s still my job. I can’t change that. So, does it mean that’s who I am? No, it’s who I am as a competitive person in that environment. So I don’t really take a lot of that to heart.

“The people that know me the best, the people that know me off the racetrack, you know, their opinion matters a lot. But when I’m in a competitive environment, I have to be a different person. And so, I am.

“A lot of people don’t see the other side, so you get judged off of that. So, it is what it is and you move on.”

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