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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!

Follow @KellyCrandall

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”