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day as he ran up front for much of the race before suffering a penalty for a crewman throwing a gas can, which was then rescinded and placed him back in contention.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!”
|1||8||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|2||3||17||Chris Buescher||RFK Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|3||4||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||110||Running|
|4||23||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|5||25||2||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford||110||Running|
|6||14||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||110||Running|
|7||7||1||Ross Chastain||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|8||2||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|9||20||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|10||22||6||Brad Keselowski||RFK Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|11||13||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|12||18||31||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|13||15||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|14||21||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|15||1||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|16||19||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|17||9||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||110||Running|
|18||11||45||Kurt Busch||23XI Racing||Toyota||110||Running|
|19||16||16||A.J. Allmendinger*||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|20||17||15||Joey Hand||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|21||6||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|22||33||43||Erik Jones||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|23||34||42||Ty Dillon||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|24||24||38||Todd Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||110||Running|
|25||32||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|26||28||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||110||Running|
|27||31||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||110||Running|
|28||26||21||Harrison Burton||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||110||Running|
|29||29||77||Josh Bilicki*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||110||Running|
|30||12||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||110||Running|
|31||10||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||110||Running|
|32||36||51||Cody Ware||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|33||35||78||Scott Heckert||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||109||Running|
|34||30||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|35||5||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||97||Running|
|36||27||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||9||Engine|
* – Ineligible for points