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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Daniel Suarez

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Daniel Suarez doesn’t hesitate when it comes to crediting his father, Alejandro, as the reason he made it to the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

When Daniel began racing at a young age in Mexico, Alejandro put his life on hold. Sensing that his son could be successful, Alejandro dedicated his time and what money the family had toward pushing Daniel as far as he could. But it was without connections or sponsors, without Daniel having much experience, and when the family wasn’t deep in money.

“Honestly, if I was in his position and I had a son, I’m not sure I would have done it because it takes a lot of risk,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “He didn’t know if I was going to make it or not. Ninety-five percent of the time you don’t make it, it’s tough … With all that, he gave (us) a few shots, not just one because so many different times we were close to just giving up, and somehow we kept digging.”

Alejandro bet on his son. That meant closing his car restoration shop that was well-known around Mexico. The garage is where Daniel grew up and developed his love of cars. Working alongside his dad fixing cars, mostly Beetles, Daniel was there every day after school and even when he had a vacation.

The shop meant a lot to both he and his father, and Daniel knew Alejandro didn’t necessarily want to close the doors. Now, however, he respects his father even more for the sacrifices he made — ones that helped Suarez land at Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2015, Suarez earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Xfinity Series and has won twice in 2016.

So when Suarez started to make a name for himself, he immediately thought of his father.

“I went back to him a couple years ago, and I said, ‘Hey, I really want to fix my cars, and I really want you to fix them like you used to, so here’s the deal: I really want to put the shop back together,’ ” Suarez said. “So we put the shop back together, and we build everything together. And a lot of people were super excited because he was coming back in the business that he was very well-known for a long time.

“Right now we’ve been two years with the shop, and it’s been great. A lot of fun working with cars. Really he’s the one having fun because the shop is over there (in Mexico), but every single time I go (visit) I get in trouble with my girlfriend because I spend more time in the shop than with her. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s what I like to do and what I grew up doing, and I’m very, very happy that I’m able to give my dad a little bit of what he gave me five years ago.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: You’ve said your first go-kart race was nothing more than you, your dad and a couple of tools. What do you remember about that day?

Suarez: We had the go-kart in my house. It was in my garage. We didn’t have a hauler. We didn’t have anything. We just had a pickup truck, and we put the go-kart in there and grabbed some tools, and we went to have fun. I remember it was Good Friday on the practice day, and we were running well, we were decent, and then on the second day, Saturday was the race, it was a rainy day, so it was a little difficult, different. We didn’t expect to have to race in the rain, and it actually ended up being a really good race, we finished third.

Since I was very little, I was loving cars, old cars, new cars, and I liked to drive, but I didn’t know how to get into this. So, my dad, he likes the same stuff that I like, and somehow we started getting into the sport, and I was very lucky that he was there to support me all the time. Even when he didn’t have all the economy support, he was able to find a way either with sponsors or with friends, something, somehow, to put me at the next level. He did that since I was 10 years old until I was 17 when things started to get more and more expensive, and I got a contract with a different team, TELMEX. After that, he pretty much relaxed and let me go try to do my career on my own.

NBC Sports: What was your situation in terms of living arrangements and a job when you decided to make the move to the United States?

Suarez: I was racing in Mexico at that point in just my first year in NASCAR Mexico. I was with TELMEX, and I got an invitation to race in the Toyota All-Star Showdown in California, I think it was 2011, and my team in Mexico didn’t want me to go because they thought I wasn’t ready to go. They say, ‘Daniel, we got a plan for you, just wait a little bit, wait one more year and get more experience and then you can go to the U.S., and you’re going to do well.’ Two other drivers, the winningest driver from Mexico was going, and the champion from Mexico was going, and somehow some people got a sponsor for me to do that race. So my dad say, ‘Daniel, give yourself a shot and see what happens.’ I was a little scared at that point because I didn’t know English, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have experience, and we just went out there to see what was going on here in the U.S.

We end up being the best driver from Mexico, finishing in the 11th or 10th position and once that happened everything started to change. A lot of people in Mexico started to put a lot more confidence in me because of the people we beat. After that, the team (I raced for) was based in Buffalo, N.Y., and I went to live there for a few months in the owner’s house to work in the shop and to learn English. I went back home for a few months to continue school and then said if I want to do this, I need to move over there because definitely I need more experience and I needed to learn English. So I moved to North Carolina, and in the beginning, I was living with one of my friends for a few months, and then I lived with another friend for a month, and after that, I found a cheap place in Mooresville. I was just trying to follow a dream, and it was very tough. The first two years in the U.S. were maybe the toughest I had in my career, but slowly things started to work out.

NBC Sports: Why do you say that was the toughest years of your career?

Suarez: Well, because I didn’t know English. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know the race team. I didn’t have a sponsor. It was just unclear, my career. I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not and a few times I just wanted to go back to Mexico because my family was far away. I wasn’t having fun because most of the time I was thinking how to get money to race instead of how to drive. So it was just very tough two years, but I knew if I was going to make it through those two years, everything else was going to be way easier. Somehow we made it. We got a little luck, and some people started to support me and the people from Mexico have been on my side all the time. Even when I was almost on the ground, they helped me a little bit to survive and to learn how to survive in those environments, and I feel like that helped me a lot to be in this position right now.

NBC Sports: What was the biggest shock coming to the United States from Mexico?

Suarez: I didn’t realize how big of a change it was to move to a different country with really different people. I didn’t know anybody or the language and just being without family. It was my first time moving out, and it was just a little tough. My family at that point didn’t have a lot of money to come here often, either. The first year, I got to see my family just a couple times. It was very tough, but I just kept fighting, and we keep getting opportunities slowly, and right now, it’s fun to talk about all this because, definitely, we worked really hard to be at this point, and after this, I think everything is going to be easier than how it was in the past.

NBC Sports: How do you split your time now to be able to see your family?

Suarez: Every time I have free time, I try to go over there to spend some time with the family, at least a week or five days. But they come here as well. I feel like right now we are in a better position to try and see each other more often, and they’re having more fun because I’m having fun and because I’m enjoying everything that is going on.

NBC Sports: To learn English, you watched cartoons. Which ones specifically and how did that help you?

Suarez: First I started watching movies with subtitles in English, and that was helping me a lot. But they were talking a lot of words I didn’t understand. Then one of my friends told me, ‘Hey, just remember how people learn language when they are kids.’ They learn by TV and talking to people, watching cartoons most of the time. If you think about it, cartoons are always more simple in the words and the way they talk. They talk more slow. I said ‘Man that makes sense.’ Honestly, it was all kinds; I don’t even remember what exactly, but I was watching everything, everything that was on the TV. Not to watch the cartoon –because I didn’t care about the cartoon — I wanted to listen. Even when I was doing dinner or lunch or whatever in the kitchen, I was watching the cartoons, listening to the cartoons to try and pick up something.

NBC Sports: On social media you often share about finding sushi places to eat while traveling. How did the sushi craze start?

Suarez: Since I was little, my dad likes a place in Mexico that we used to go a lot. That place is still there in Mexico, and now I know the owner. The owner is my friend, and I used to go to that place since I was 8 years old and now when I go to Mexico we have dinner together. I just like that. My sister is a nutritionist so in the last few years she’s been teaching me how to eat well, and sushi is one of the best things. So I like it, and it’s healthy, too!

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Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)