Daniel Suarez is the 2016 champion of the NASCAR Xfinity Series, driving a dominating race to win the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 300 Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Or, to put it another way:
Daniel Suárez es el campeón de 2016 de la Serie Xfinity de NASCAR, conduciendo una carrera dominante para ganar el Ford EcoBoost 300 de finales de temporada el sábado en Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In just his second full-time season in the Xfinity Series, the 24-year-old Suarez — who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico — became the first international-born driver to win a major championship in NASCAR history.
“My family worked super hard since I was 11 years old to get better and one day … everyone that helped me, my friends in Mexico, I just can’t believe this,” Suarez told NBCSN’s Marty Snider. “It’s a dream come true.”
Suarez ruled over the 200-lap event, leading 133 laps. But the biggest move for the new champion — and the first under the inaugural Xfinity Series Chase for the Championship elimination format — was when he got past leader Cole Whitt, who was on older tires, and then Elliott Sadler with three laps to go and motored on to the title.
“I was a little worried because I knew (Whitt) wasn’t going to be as fast as everyone else, but it worked out,” Suarez said.
It was Suarez’s third win of the season and, with one previous Truck Series victory, the fourth overall triumph of his NASCAR major series career.
Suarez’s previous best effort of his racing career was second place in the NASCAR Mexico Series in 2013. He had 10 wins overall in four seasons in that series.
One of two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the title race, Suarez bested his three challengers: JR Motorsports’ Sadler (finished third) and Justin Allgaier (sixth), as well as Suarez’s JGR teammate, Erik Jones (ninth).
“It’s heartbreaking,” Sadler said. “To be that close and to be in that position at the end, the guys made a great call to put me in that spot. … To come up short, yeah, I’m sad for myself, but I’m more sad for my sponsors, my team, my guys in the shop. I love them to death and I wanted to win this championship for them real bad.”
Added Jones, who was seeking his second consecutive NASCAR championship (he won the Truck Series title last season): “There’s nothing we can do now but it’s just kind of unfortunate. It was a valient effort, it just didn’t come with a big reward.”
HOW SUAREZ WON: On the final restart, leader Cole Whitt spun his tires and allowed Elliott Sadler to take the lead. But Suarez – who took four fresh tires on the last pit stop to Sadler’s two tires – got past on Lap 198 and sailed on to the race win and the championship.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Elliott Sadler had hoped to win his first championship in 21 years of NASCAR racing in both the Xfinity Series and Sprint Cup. Sadler ran a strong race, but just came up a little bit short. It’s the third time Sadler has finished second in the Xfinity Series in the last six seasons. … Race runner-up Ty Dillon was the best of the non-Chase drivers.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: There was a big wreck on Lap 136. Ryan Reed spun, Jordan Anderson got into the rear of Jeremy Clements, and Anderson’s destroyed car erupted in flames, bringing out a four-plus minute red flag. All drivers were uninjured. … Joey Gase hoped for a good race, but his car caught fire near the mid-point of the race, leaving him with a 37th-place finish.
NOTABLE: Elliott Sadler had to race with a replacement crew chief (Mike Bumgarner) because Kevin Meendering was suspended for the race due to loose lug nuts at Phoenix. Then, under caution with less than 40 laps to go, Sadler’s team put on scuffed tires and all five lug nuts fell off one tire, prompting them to re-glue the lug nuts manually, dropping Sadler from eighth to 16th position.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I learned how to speak English watching TV – cartoons!” – Race winner and 2016 Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez.
WHAT’S NEXT: The 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series season starts February 25th at Daytona International Speedway.