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 releases Cup rules packages for 2021

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NASCAR announced Thursday its rules package slate for the 2021 Cup Series season, a day after next year’s schedule was unveiled.

For returning tracks to the 36-race schedule, the rules are largely unchanged save for Darlington Raceway.

Cup teams will use the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package at the 1.366-mile track. It’s the package that’s been used this season on road courses and short tracks. Nashville Superspeedway, the 1.333-mile track being added in 2021, will use the same package.

The packages for the other new race tracks – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indy road course – have not been decided on.

“We constantly review the race packages to try to put on the best possible racing for our fans,” John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice Presiden of Innovation and Racing Development said in a media release. “When he brought in the short track / road course package this season, Darlington was not part of it due to its unique size. We’ve been evaluating data from both race packages, as well as feedback from drivers, teams and OEMs and feel that the 750 hp / low downforce package best fits the track.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Teams are restricted to 150 restricted computational fluid dynamics runs per calendar month.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from 13).

Click here for the rule packages for each Cup race in 2021.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”