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.”