Joe Gibbs Racing begins new era with birthday boy Daniel Suarez

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Depending on how you look at it, Daniel Suarez‘ best birthday gift came either four days late or one year early.

About 10 minutes after the Carl Edwards era in the No. 19 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing ended, the Suarez era began.

Suarez, who turned 25 on Jan. 7, was introduced as Edwards’ successor in a press conference at the team’s headquarters Wednesday morning.

“I wasn’t expecting to be in this position right now,” said Suarez, who made history in 2016 by becoming the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title, capturing the Xfinity championship. “It’s been an amazing time. This is hard to believe that I’m in this position. We started all this dream 10 years ago with NASCAR, and right now to be in this position, to be in this opportunity is just something amazing for me and for everyone that has been helping me.”

Suarez said he expected to make the jump to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year.

While the rest of the NASCAR community had spent the last 24 hours getting caught up on Edwards’ January surprise, the native of Monterrey, Mexico, had been in on the secret for a while. At some point after Christmas, Suarez was informed of the biggest news of his career during lunch with his girlfriend, Silvia, and her family.

“I was actually in the middle of everything, and I got a call,” Suarez recalled. “I had to jump out of the middle of lunch, and then I never came back after 40 minutes. And then when I came back, Silvia and her parents, they were asking me what was going on because I came back with a (big smile). So they were asking me what was going on. Well, really I wasn’t able to say anything, so I didn’t say anything.”

But on Wednesday, 46 days before the Daytona 500 and his first start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Suarez could say everything.

“Very, very happy for this opportunity,” Suarez said. “It’s something that we really were waiting for. It came a little bit sooner than what we were expecting, but I think we are ready, and we’re ready to go, and we are ready to start learning about everything and ready to perform well.”

Suarez has already been exposed to the impact of his historic NASCAR title, which came after he won three Xfinity races. Suarez came face-to-face with it when he attended an exhibition NASCAR Mexico Series race earlier in the offseason in Mexico City.

“I was expecting a good welcome as a champion, but what I lived in that moment, just, I don’t know, five, six hours, it was just unbelievable,” Suarez said. “I felt like I was like … a rock star. Everyone was thanking me and everyone was asking me for pictures. Actually some big names in México, they were asking me for pictures, where normally three years ago I was asking them for pictures. So it was something huge.”

For Joe Gibbs, the alumni of the NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity program was “the obvious choice” to fill the unexpected vacancy created by Edwards.

Gibbs championed the two years of work Suarez put in driving in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series and his selflessness.

“We have a lot of things where we have sponsors come in here and do different two‑ and three‑day events, and we’d be down at the bowling alley with a sponsor that had nothing to do with Daniel,” Gibbs said. “I’d turn around and there he is, he’s bowling. Or he’s at the pit and driving the go‑karts and stuff like that.”

Even with the state of flux Edwards is now in, Gibbs hopes the driver who won five races for him in two Cup seasons will be part of Suarez’s transition.

“What we have discussed with (Edwards) is continuing to work with us and continuing to work inside of NASCAR, and we’ve got some things coming up,” Gibbs said, adding he hopes Edwards can attend Suarez’s first test later this month at Phoenix International Raceway.

“He’s going to help Daniel and our support group, but then there’s going to be other things that we’ve kind of been thinking about with Carl. So hopefully that’s what we’ll see in the future going forward.”

Suarez’ first time in the No 19 car is still 19 days away, but he’s itching to get started.

“I can’t wait to drive that car,” Suarez said. “I wish I could take it to the street right now.”

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch questions Xfinity rules package at Indy

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Kyle Busch isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he certainly did so after Saturday’s  Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR implemented a number of changes to make the racing closer, tighter and more exciting — including restrictor plates, a larger rear spoiler, aero ducts, and a smaller splitter — and achieved all that on many fronts.

But not for the younger Busch brother, who wasn’t pleased with the rules package. Was it actually designed to specifically slow him down rather than to even out things for the entire field?

Or was he just simply upset because he didn’t win a third Xfinity race in a row at IMS?

Check out how our NASCAR America analysts gauged the Xfinity changes in the above video.

 

TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith passes away

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Mark Smith, owner of TriStar Motorsports, died Saturday at his home, after a long battle with cancer, the team announced Monday. He was 63.

He began his racing career building engines for his brother Jack’s drag car in the 1970s. He moved his family from the West Coast in the early 1990s to pursue a career in NASCAR. He was the owner of TriStar Motorsports and Pro Motor Engines.

TriStar Motorsports fields the No. 14 in the Xfinty Series with JJ Yeley and the No. 72 in the Cup Series with Cole Whitt. The team stated the team will continue operations under the management of Bryan Smith, son of Mark Smith.

“It was dad’s dream to own and operate a NASCAR team,” Bryan Smith said. “He devoted his life to that dream and his family plans to honor his wishes by continuing our efforts in his memory.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Victory Junction Gang victoryjunction.org or NOVA (National Organization for Vehicle Access, part of the BraunAbility) novafunding.org.

The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. ET, Aug. 1 at Cavin-Cook Funeral Home, Mooresville, North Carolina. They have created a Facebook page where you are encouraged to leave a story for the family to enjoy. (facebook.com/Remembering-Mark-Smith-301261653675224)

NASCAR America: Analysts break down Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. wreck (video)

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Given how wild the Brickyard 400 played out, the big wreck between race leaders Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t exactly surprising.

Rather, with the way the race transpired from the opening lap, was the Busch/Truex wreck almost inevitable?

Truex got loose and washed up into the left rear of Busch’s car, sending both drivers and their respective cars into the outside retaining walls, hitting hard and ending their respective days.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about the wreck from Monday’s show in the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. recaps wild Brickyard 400 (video)

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. — who will become part of our NBC Sports Group in 2018 — looked back on a wild and intense Brickyard 400.

Earnhardt was one of several drivers whose day came to an early ending — in Junior’s case when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne‘s car, destroying his radiator in the process.

All the mayhem and mishaps could be linked to over-aggressive driving, Earnhardt said, saying that every driver was in “attack mode,” especially on restarts.

Check out Junior in the video above.