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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Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.

 

 

Winners and losers from the Clash at the Coliseum

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the non-points race that opened the NASCAR season:

WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex limped through a frustrating 2022 season, going winless and contemplating writing “finish” to his driving career. But he decided late in the year to make another run, and that choice paid big dividends Sunday as he put Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane.

Richard Childress Racing — RCR opened the season with power, putting Austin Dillon in second and newcomer Kyle Busch in third. The new teammates even enjoyed some late-race collaboration, Busch backing off a second-place battle to give Dillon a chance to make a run at eventual winner Truex.

Ryan Preece — Preece, given a shot in the offseason at a full-time ride in Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing, showed strength in his first outing, leading 43 laps before electrical issues dropped him to seventh.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace held the lead at the halfway point and totaled 40 laps in first but was drop-kicked by Austin Dillon late in the race and finished 22nd.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott — It was a lost weekend for the former Cup champion. Elliott was lapped during the race, failed to lead a lap and finished 21st.

Ty Gibbs — Suspension problems parked Gibbs after 81 laps, and he finished next-to-last a day after his car caught fire in practice.

Michael McDowell — McDowell was involved in several on-track incidents during the evening and finished 24th after running out of fuel, along with teammate Todd Gilliland.

Long: Drivers make their point clear on Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — So what to do with the Clash at the Coliseum?

The second edition of this exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum showcased beating, banging and 16 cautions in a 150-lap race won by Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night.

A year remains on NASCAR’s three-year contract with the Coliseum — NASCAR holds the option for next year — and it seems all but certain Cup cars will be back next year.

With Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen saying Saturday that his track will not host a NASCAR event in 2024 while being converted from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile track, the Los Angeles area would be without a NASCAR race if the Clash did not return.

NASCAR is not likely to leave the nation’s No. 2 TV market without a race. 

A question this weekend was if the Clash would become a points race next year to replace the Auto Club Speedway date and allow NASCAR to have a new venue for the Clash.

“I think they should put (the Coliseum race) in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect,” Denny Hamlin said straight faced after Sunday’s race before breaking into a smile to show he was speaking sarcastically.

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was emphatic in his response.

“No,” Logano said, shaking his head Sunday night. “We can’t do that.”

Why?

“You’re going to fit 40 cars out there? We can’t even make a caution lap without the pace car bumping the last-place car.”

Logano smiled as he spoke — then again he often smiles as he talks. He was not speaking sarcastically as Hamlin showed with his smile. Logano’s grin was part of a passionate defense.

“No. You can’t do that,” Logano continued of why a points race at the Coliseum is a bad idea. “That’d be dumb.”

Even in a celebratory mood after his first victory in NASCAR in more than a year, Truex was clear about his feelings of making the Clash a points race.

“Why would you screw it up,” he said, “and make it a points race?”

Just because drivers don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

But much would have to happen to make this event a points race.

Those familiar with the charter agreement between teams and NASCAR told NBC Sports that they weren’t sure that the language in the agreement would permit a points race at such a venue. With the charter system guaranteeing all 36 teams a spot in a race, it’s not feasible to run so many cars on this small track. Only 27 cars ran in Sunday’s Clash. That almost seemed too many.

Should there be a way to make this event a points race without all 36 running in the main event, there are other issues. 

The purse would have to significantly increase. NASCAR stated that the purse for Sunday’s Clash was $2.085 million. Last year’s championship race at Phoenix had a purse of $10.5 million. The purse for last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen was $6.6 million. The purse for last year’s race at Nashville Superspeedway was $8.065 million.

If NASCAR made the Clash a points race, then the purse would be expected to fall in line with other points races. Of course, there still would be the logistics. 

But is it worth it to try to make an event something it doesn’t need to be?

While the attendance appeared to be a little less than the estimated 50,000 for last year’s race, it wasn’t enough of a drop to warrant abandoning this event. Is a points race at the Coliseum going to increase the attendance significantly? No.

Just bring this event back next year as is.

“I think it’s good for what it is,” Logano said. “It’s a non-points race. I think we need to go back to maybe only four cars (instead of five) transferring from the heat (races) … there’s just too many cars (on the track). I think that’s part of the issue as well.”

Then, to make sure he got his point across about if next year’s Coliseum race should be a points race, Logano said: “A points-paying race. No. I’ll be the first to raise my hand that’s a very bad idea.” 

But it’s possible 2024 could be the final year for this event at the Coliseum. 

If Auto Club Speedway’s conversion to a short track can be done in time to be on the 2025 schedule, then the Los Angeles region would have a short track and NASCAR could move the Clash to a new area to reach more fans.

That’s part of the goal this new dynamic NASCAR, which has moved Cup races to different venues in the last couple of years and will run its first street course race in July in Chicago. 

While NASCAR has made such changes, making the race at the Coliseum a points race serves no purpose. Just listen to the drivers.