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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Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back

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William Byron is back in a transfer spot after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded his 25-point penalty Thursday for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.

By getting those 25 points back, Byron enters Sunday’s elimination playoff race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) 14 points above the cutline.

Daniel Suarez is now in the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. He is 12 points ahead of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Christopher Bell is 45 points behind Suarez. Alex Bowman will not race this week as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms and has been eliminated from Cup title contention.

NASCAR did not penalize Byron after his incident with Hamlin because series officials did not see the contact. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for intentionally wrecking Hamlin.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Byron violated the rule but amended the penalty to no loss of driver and owner points while increasing the fine to $100,000.

The panel did not give a reason for its decision. NASCAR cannot appeal the panel’s decision.

The panel consisted of Hunter Nickell, a former TV executive, Dale Pinilis, track operator of Bowman Gray Stadium and Kevin Whitaker, owner of Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Here is the updated standings heading into Sunday’s race at the Roval:

Byron’s actions took place after 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 that 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.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

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The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

 

Name

Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC

 

Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications

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Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits

Angle

The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval

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NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on the road for the final time this season Sunday, as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course ends the playoffs’ Round of 12.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course incorporating the CMS oval and infield will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott won last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and is the only driver who has qualified for a spot in the Round of 8.

Entering Sunday’s race, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the playoff cutline. Bowman will not qualify for the next round because he is sidelined by concussion-like symptoms.

The race (2 p.m ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 81 with a 6% chance of rain.

Saturday: Mixed clouds and sun. High of 67 with a 3% chance of rain.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 68 with a 3% chance of rain.

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

  • 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)