Last year, the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY rookie Daniel Suárez was still feeling his way through the circuit when the Menards 250 came up on the schedule in mid-June. He finished 20th.
“It went terrible,” Suárez told Fox News Latino on Thursday. “It was one of the worst races we had that year.”
The race car driver can afford to smile about the loss now, having won the 2016 version of the race last Saturday, and becoming the first Mexican-born driver to win a race in one of NASCAR’s national circuits.
The Menards 250 is held at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., and, with the 24-year-old Suárez having come up through the stock-car racing circuit’s Mexico Series, it isn’t a track that he had ever seen before.
“It’s all about experience,” Suárez told FNL. “And making a second visit to all the tracks makes a big difference.”
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Not that Suárez is complaining about his 2015 season. He ended it with eight Top 5 finishes and 18 Top 10s in 33 races — good enough to be named the XFINITY circuit’s Rookie of the Year.
Heading into Saturday’s American Ethanol E15 250 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Suárez is sitting atop the XFINITY table, ahead of Elliott Sandler by 18 points. In 13 races this year, he has finished out of the Top 10 just twice.
And Suárez hasn’t quite come down yet from the exciting finish of his first XFINITY win, in which he passed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, in the closing moments and then held him off for the last lap to claim the win.
Did Suárez have a moment wondering if he shouldn’t let the standard bearer for JGR pass him?
“No, I didn’t even think about that,” Suárez said, chuckling.
Suárez is the first Mexican-born race car driver to reach this high on the various NASCAR circuits – XFINITY is below only the Sprint Cup Series in NASCAR’s pecking order. And he knows that his background means that a lot of people are examining his every move.
“Suárez just won for all of Latin America!” the Fox Sports Latin America announcers who called the Menards 250 said on air as the Mexican driver edged Busch to the checkered flag.
“Latinos are maybe the most important group for NASCAR to try to reach,” Suárez told FNL in 2015. “One of the things we’re pushing for is to try to get more Hispanics out to the track.”
If he continues to win, there’s little doubt that Latinos won’t sit up and take notice. So when does Suárez think he’ll rack up his second XFINITY win?
“On Saturday,” he said.