Taking a big chance is starting to pay off for Daniel Suarez

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To succeed, NASCAR drivers routinely take chances in races.

But that’s nothing compared to the kind of chance Daniel Suarez took.

Four years ago, after two seasons of racing in the NASCAR Mexico Series, Suarez left his native land to try and make it in the big league world of NASCAR.

“I moved to the States without anything, without money, without many friends and I didn’t know the language at all,” he said earlier this week during a press conference at Chicagoland Speedway. “The first thing was just to try and learn the language and just start from there.”

With only a few friends in the States and unable to speak English, Suarez took a leap of faith.

“I just came here,” Suarez said. “A friend of mine, Jose Sabates (brother of NASCAR team co-owner Felix Sabates) and a few other friends told me they thought I had a talent to do something in the United States. One of my biggest concerns was the language. They wanted me to move to the States to start learning the language, so I did.”

The 23-year-old Suarez is splitting time on the Xfinity (his primary series) and the Truck Series this season.

In the Xfinity Series, he’s made all 10 starts with one top five and three top 10s.

In the Truck Series, he’s made four starts with one top five and four top 10s.

“I sometimes ask myself how did I make it to this point?” Suarez told NASCAR Talk. “It’s hard. If somebody asked me three or four years ago if I was going to make it, I wasn’t sure.

“The percentage was to not make it than to make it. So, it was pretty tough. I remember a couple years ago, I was very, very close to going back to Mexico and keep myself racing in Mexico because it was difficult without family, without a language, without friends – and at one point, without money. It was just tough.

“But I had patience, got help from NASCAR and a lot of people like sponsors, a lot of help from the Drive For Diversity program, as well, and things just started to work out better and better.”

Suarez tore up the NASCAR Mexico Series, which is where he first caught the attention of NASCAR officials from Daytona, as well as Joe Gibbs Racing.

In 58 starts in the NASCAR Mexico Series, he won 10 races, had 25 top-five and 34 top-10 finishes, as well as 13 poles.

Success followed him when he moved to the U.S. and into the K&N Pro Series. In 42 starts, he won three times, had 12 top 5 and 22 top 10 finishes.

There are a lot of eyes on Suarez in NASCAR, but there are literally millions more watching him in his native land and throughout Latin America.

When asked if is looked upon as somewhat of a star in Mexico and Central and South America, Suarez laughed and said, “I hope so. If not, we’re in trouble.”

But then he turned serious and added, “A lot of people have helped me, fans, sponsors and friends. It’s very cool to see all these people that have been on my side. It’s great to see all these people keep their support constant, especially the fans, people who follow me since I was in the beginning of my racing career back in Mexico.”

In so doing, Suarez is also giving back to his roots, so to speak. He enjoys giving speeches and engaging with students of Latino descent around the country.

Prior to arriving at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday, he visited with nearly 450 students at an elementary school in Joliet, Ill., a Chicago suburb. The majority of those students are Latino, and for many English is a second language.

“It’s definitely something cool, something important,” Suarez said. “It gives me an opportunity to talk to them and let them know a little about my background, how I came here to the States.

“I’m very proud of representing Latin American people. That’s something good and different. I really do like doing different things. It’s been great to spend time with these kids and even better to have the opportunity to invite all of them to the race next month on June 20 (at CLS).”

Suarez is coming off a great start in the Xfinity race at Iowa this past Sunday. He led nearly 50 laps, particularly in the opening stages of the race, but ran into trouble and ultimately wound up finishing 18th.

Prior to that race, he had led a total of just five laps in two of the first nine races of the season.

“It was great to be upfront, I was so pumped,” Suarez proudly said with a big smile. “I wanted to win the race, to be in the front, to be the guy to beat. We were the guy for 40 or 50 laps, and then it look like we lost a little balance, we came back, and then had some bad luck on a pit stop and bad luck with fuel. It just was a difficult race.

“We have to learn from that and move forward. We showed we’re not scared to race in the front.”

With all four Sprint Cup driver spots filled at JGR, Suarez will likely have to bide his time for at least a few more seasons before he fulfills his dream of making the jump to the big time.

“I think the plan right now is very clear: just stay in Xfinity and Trucks, try to be competitive, try to learn from that and try to win some races – and that’s important,” Suarez said. “I feel like we’re getting closer and closer every weekend, so we’re learning a lot.

“There’s still a lot of small things to fix, but we’re getting there. Everything is going to come in the right time, but for sure the goal is to get to Cup and race with the best drivers in the world. That’s eventually going to happen, I’m sure, but it’s going to take some time.”

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NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC)

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).