Daniel Suarez has a big fan in Formula One

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Though they won’t be racing each other, two of Mexico’s most highly touted motor sports prospects will share a North Carolina connection this season.

Daniel Suarez will begin his second year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, which is headquartered in Huntersville. About 20 miles east in Kannapolis (another northern suburb of Charlotte), Haas F1 Team will begin its first Formula One season with Esteban Gutierrez.

It’s the latest commonality for Suarez, 24, and Gutierrez, 24, who became childhood friends while growing up together racing go-karts in Monterrey, Mexico.

“It’s been very nice to see he chose to go through that side (to) NASCAR, (and) I went to Formula One, but we both started at the same place at the same time,” Gutierrez said during a recent interview at the Haas F1 shop. “We both managed to get here. It’s nice. We are good friends.”

Gutierrez, who will be teamed with Romain Grosjean at Haas F1, smiles when asked who is the better racer. “In go karts, we competed a lot,” he said. “I beat (Suarez) and went to the world finals, but he was beating me sometimes. It was good fun.”

Suarez was named the 2015 Xfinity rookie of the year after finishing fifth in the points standings with 18 top 10s (including a best of second at Bristol Motor Speedway in April).

Gutierrez, who has taken more of an interest in NASCAR with Haas F1 as the sister organization to Stewart-Haas Racing, believes Suarez’s foray into NASCAR will help racing’s profile in their native country.

“He will be successful in NASCAR,” Gutierrez said of Suarez. “I feel happy for him to be where he is now. It raises up the interest in general of motorsport not only into Formula One but into NASCAR and all the series. It’s good for everybody.”