NASCAR Cup Series

Daniel Suarez gets over hump with Sonoma triumph

4 Mins read
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The twisty Sonoma Raceway is often regarded as a strategy course rather than one predicated on side-by-side action for the NASCAR Cup Series. Indeed, Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 was relatively clean in terms of on-track drama and many drivers instead found themselves being shot in the foot by pit road errors, mechanical trouble, or penalties.

Daniel Suárez was able to avoid the misfortunes and dominated the final stage, and he can finally call himself a Cup Series race winner. The Mexico native is the fifth foreign-born driver to win a Cup race as he joins Mario Andretti (Italy), Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia), Earl Ross (Canada), and Marcos Ambrose (Australia); Suárez and Montoya are two of eighteen drivers to score their maiden Cup victories on road courses, with Montoya’s coming at Sonoma as well.

“It was special,” said Suárez in his press conference. He is the fortieth driver to win a race in each of NASCAR’s three national series (Cup, Xfinity, Truck) and the only one with wins in the Cup Series and an international division as a former Mexico Series champion. “I’ve been working very hard for this moment, not just myself, but my entire team. I am very lucky to have people around me in the team, but outside the team. My family always supporting me, my beautiful girlfriend Julia (Piquet) that she work very hard in the last few months keeping me up and letting me know that I was doing the right things. We just need to have a clean day. That’s what we had today.

“Today just felt special. I told her this morning that today felt good. We did it in front of a few hundred Mexicans and Daniel’s Amigos. It was just a special day. I have always seen California as my second home. To be able to get the first victory here is quite special.”

The path to victory opened when Suárez took the lead on the lap 85 restart, but it was not an easy journey: Chris Buescher endured a tumultuous day as he ran up front for much of the race before suffering a penalty for a crewman throwing a gas can, which was then rescinded and placed him back in contention. Despite Buescher and Michael McDowell‘s pursuits, they were unable to catch Suárez.

“I didn’t care who was behind me,” Suárez continued. “I was just trying to do my race, trying to control what I can control. I knew that Buescher was very strong in the short run. Probably a little bit better than me. But in the middle part of the run I was better than him. In the long run I felt like I was better than him. It was able to play out pretty good right there near the end. I knew if I stay up front for the first five to seven laps, I was going to be able to control the race. Obviously the last ten, five laps, I was just trying to take care of my tyres in case we had a restart. If we had a restart at that point, I knew we were not going to come for tires. It was going to be a track position race.

“I was trying to save a little bit, even though my car was already a little tired at the time, but everyone else was tired as well.”

While nobody wrecked out, the first victim of bad circumstances came when Bubba Wallace‘s engine blew after just ten laps, beginning a tidal wave of frustration for Toyota as not a single Camry finished better than eighteenth (Kurt Busch). Stage #1 winner, pole-sitter, and perennial favourite Kyle Larson lost his right-front wheel two segments later; the latter’s incident will result in a four-race suspension for crew chief Cliff Daniels. Many were penalised for pit stop gaffes such as Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Chase Elliott, with Elliott having to reverse into his stall while his tyre changer’s air gun was still on the new wheel.

During the final stage, 2017 race winner Kevin Harvick had a slow Stage #3 stop when his crew had to re-jack his car and Ross Chastain left before backing up into his pit box to address a loose wheel. Chastain, like his Trackhouse Racing Team partner Suárez, was also a first-time Cup winner at a road course when he won at COTA in March. Both drivers would still get out of their jams to score top tens.

Owing to his background and struggles throughout his Cup career, having gone 145 races and six years with four different teams without a win, Suárez’s victory proved popular with his peers. Fellow Mexican driver Sergio Pérez, who scored a runner-up finish in Formula One‘s Azerbaijan Grand Prix earlier in the day, congratuled him on Twitter while NTT IndyCar Series racer Pato O’Ward retweeted NASCAR’s posts commemorating the win.

“How big @Daniel_SuarezG!! Enjoy it a lot with your whole family,” began Pérez’s message in Spanish. “Congratulations; how much you deserved it. Also congratulations to @Carlos_Slim_D (Carlos Slim Domit) and Jimmy Morales (Suárez’s manager), how they have changed history in our sport and we are going for more.”

Domit, a longtime backer of Pérez and Suárez’s racing careers, gave his regards to both and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Roberto González Valdes by tweeting, “BRAVO @Daniel_SuarezG 1st Mexican in Victory Lane in the history of @NASCAR Cup. Well done Dany!!! Great podium and 2nd in the championship @SChecoPerez!! And congratulations to @RobGonzalezV 3rd Mexican to win the 24 Le Mans. ¡VIVA MÉXICO!”

Race results

1899Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet110Running
2317Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord110Running
3434Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord110Running
4234Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord110Running
5252Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord110Running
61412Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord110Running
771Ross ChastainTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet110Running
829Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet110Running
92024William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet110Running
10226Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord110Running
11133Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet110Running
121831Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet110Running
131514Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord110Running
142110Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord110Running
1515Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet110Running
161948Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet110Running
17922Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord110Running
181145Kurt Busch23XI RacingToyota110Running
191616A.J. Allmendinger*Kaulig RacingChevrolet110Running
201715Joey HandRick Ware RacingFord110Running
21641Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord110Running
223343Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet110Running
233442Ty DillonPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet110Running
242438Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord110Running
253247Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet110Running
262819Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota110Running
273120Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota110Running
282621Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord110Running
292977Josh Bilicki*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet110Running
301218Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota110Running
311011Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota110Running
323651Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord109Running
333578Scott HeckertLive Fast MotorsportsFord109Running
34307Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet101Running
3558Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet97Running
362723Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota9Engine
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points
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About author
Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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