Long: Daniel Suarez completes long journey to first Cup win

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Daniel Suarez learned to speak English by watching cartoons more than a decade ago. What he screamed after winning his first NASCAR Cup race Sunday at Sonoma Raceway was something that could not air on any children’s program.

His exclamations revealed relief and the reward of a journey that has challenged Suarez in ways he could not have imagined before he arrived in the U.S. from Monterrey, Mexico.

Every NASCAR driver has had a tough journey,” said Suarez, whose win came in his 195th series start. “Everyone has a different journey. 

“But my journey is definitely the most different of everyone else, leaving my family, my country, and just coming to a different culture, different language.”

Never had a driver come from Mexico and won a Cup race. Suarez became only the fifth foreign-born driver to win a Cup race in series history, joining Mario Andretti (Italy), Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia), Earl Ross (Canada) and Marcos Ambrose (Australia).

It was a long time coming.

“Very few people know how much work, sacrifice, tears, sweat this has cost me,” Suarez said after leading 47 of the 110 laps at Sonoma. “So we have to enjoy it. After a few days, we’re going to keep working because we want more.”

Suarez could not have gotten to this point without his family. When he was 16, Suarez’s father sold his car restoration business to help continue his son’s racing in Mexico.

“For whatever reason, he just put everything on the table for me,” Suarez told NBC Sports in 2017.

Suarez said that his father’s action “was for me, a lot of pressure. Luckily, things worked out, and I started winning races in Mexico.”

His success created an opportunity to run in the U.S. 

Suarez arrived in the U.S. in 2011 and went to the Buffalo area, living with the owner of his team at the time. Suarez didn’t speak English. Without money for English lessons, he watched TV to pick up the language. He tried to learn from movies but that wasn’t helpful — even with subtitles.

“Then one of my friends told me, ‘Hey, just remember how people learn language when they are kids,’ Suarez told NBC Sports in 2016. “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.’ “

What cartoons did he watch?

“Honestly, it was all kinds,” Suarez told NBC Sports in 2016. “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.”

As he learned English, his racing career neared a crossroads.

If it wasn’t for the Drive for Diversity, I don’t think I would be sitting here right now,” Suarez said Sunday of NASCAR’s program that provides opportunities for minority drivers. “Back in 2013 and ’14 they saved my butt. 

“I was about to come back to Mexico. They gave me an opportunity to keep racing in 2013. That kept me alive. I was able to win races that year and keep the momentum going. Before that, it was very, very tough.”

He won one NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race in 2013 and scored twice in 2014.

He joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015 to run a full-time Xfinity schedule. He also ran a partial season in the Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Suarez won the Xfinity Series championship in 2016. He moved up to Cup in 2017 when Carl Edwards suddenly retired less than six weeks before the season. 

Suarez’s time with Joe Gibbs Racing did not produce any wins in two seasons, and he was replaced in 2019 by Martin Truex Jr. Suarez ran for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019 but was replaced the following year by Cole Custer.

Suarez then went to Gaunt Brothers Racing, an underfunded team. Suarez failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 and had only two top-20 finishes.

He left after the season to join car owner Justin Marks’ Trackhouse Racing team, a new team offering hope and promise but one that faced challenges many new teams face. 

He had a chip on his shoulder,” Marks said Sunday of when he hired Suarez. “He wanted to prove to the world he belonged in the Cup Series. 2020 was a difficult year for him.

“He checked all the boxes for us, and I knew he had a tremendous amount of potential, that he was a winner at this level. I told him from day one, ‘This is your team. This 99 team is your team. You come to me and tell me anything and everything that you need. We’re going to put that behind you.’ ”

While teammate Ross Chastain won the first two races for Trackhouse, it could have been Suarez who won the team’s first race at Circuit of the Americas. Suarez won the opening stage but mechanical issues slowed him that day. He finished 24th, while Chastain celebrated the win.

That started a 10-race streak that saw Suarez finish no better than 10th.

“We keep pushing,” he said. “I told them that bad luck doesn’t last forever, and tough people do.”

Sunday, he got to celebrate.

“Today was amazing,” Suarez said. “We did a lot of things right. But we believed that our car could have been a little bit better. 

“So when you look at the big picture and always try to see yourself as ‘What I could have done better or different?’ That’s when you become a great team. I feel like we’re on our way there.”

BJ McLeod, Live Fast team move to Chevrolet

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Driver/owner BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports will race in Chevrolets beginning with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Live Fast has been a Ford team.

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Live Fast is owned by McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. Jessica McLeod, BJ’s wife, is the team’s chief operating officer.

“Our team is excited to make this transition to Chevrolet,” BJ McLeod said in a statement released by the team. “Chevrolet Camaros have proven great success on the track, and Live Fast Motorsports is looking forward to becoming a part of this advance.”

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The team will use ECR engines.

McLeod had one top-10 finish in 29 starts in the Cup Series last season.

Dr Diandra: Delving deeper into 2022 NASCAR season statistics

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As I discovered earlier this year, cautions don’t capture everything. Sometimes drivers spin, crash, lose wheels or blow tires, but racing continues. Cautions are inaccurate proxies for counting these incidents.

Improving accuracy requires re-visiting each race in detail to find those incidents that didn’t produce cautions.

So that’s what I did.

Non-caution incidents

I use the same categories for non-caution incidents as for cautions. Only incidents significant enough to cost drivers spots count, regardless of where in the field they happen. I don’t claim to have found every incident, but I think I caught most of them.

The table below summarizes my counts for caution and non-caution incidents in the 2022 Cup Series.

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Non-caution incidents comprise 30.1% of total incidents. The percentages, however, vary widely within categories.

For example: While non-caution accidents are just 14% of all accidents, non-caution spins are almost 40% of the total spin count.

Non-caution incidents by race

The graph below shows total incidents — caution and non-caution. I show the races in chronological order from left to right. The totals do not include planned cautions.

The largest number of non-caution incidents happen at road courses. These tracks’ length and sprawling nature allow drivers to recover from a spin or accident without drawing a caution.

  • The Indy road course had the highest overall number of non-caution incidents — nine spins, six accidents and one car on fire. That comes to a total of 16 non-caution incidents and three natural cautions.
  • COTA had the second-highest total of non-caution incidents with 13 — two accidents, nine spins, one tire issue and one wheel issue. Seven natural cautions bring COTA’s incident total to 20.
  • Bristol’s asphalt race came in third in total incidents. Although all of the accidents, spins and stalls recorded there caused cautions, six tire issues and five wheel issues did not. Bristol wins the award for most non-caution incidents at an oval.

Road courses accounted for one-third of all spins in 2022. Capturing total spins is important because spins indicate how easy it is to lose control of the car.

The first third of the season tallied 34 spins. The number rose to 40 in the second third, but fell to 25 in the last 12 races of the year. The numbers from the first two-thirds of the season included 10 spins each at COTA and the Indy Road Course.

The strong dependence of spins on track type makes it hard to draw a conclusion about whether drivers improved their ability to manage the car during the year.

Tires blown

The Next Gen’s symmetry makes the car harder to turn, which demands more from the tires. Crew chiefs also gained the ability to adjust rear camber. Goodyear reported force spikes of 200 to 300 pounds in the tires. Force spikes load a tire quickly, which can lead to blowouts.

I only counted situations in which it was clear that the tire went flat before any other incident, like a spin or accident. If it was possible that another incident caused the tire to blow, I didn’t include it as a tire issue.

I counted a total of 59 blown tires in the 2022 season, which includes those that caused cautions and those that didn’t.

Teams used around 26,600 tires this season. The 59 tire failures represent about 0.2% of all tires run.

Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric had the most blown tires with five each. Bell’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. had four. Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe and Daniel Suarez each had three.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s four cars totaled 13 blown tires or 22% of the total number. Hendrick Motorsports, with the same number of cars, had eight blown tires, while Stewart Haas Racing had only six.

The Bristol asphalt race had the most tire issues, with 13. Texas came in second with eight and Kansas third with five. Atlanta, which was repaved and reconfigured, had six tire issues across its two races.

The number of tire issues at Kansas decreased from five in the first race to two in the second. I expect the overall numbers to go down next year as crew chiefs use what they’ve learned this year to refine their setups.

Wheels lost

The Next Gen’s single-lug wheel challenged pit crews, despite built-in indicators that confirm when a wheel is properly tightened. I counted 13 times cars had to back up on pit road to deal with a loose wheel and 19 times cars pitted right after a tire change to re-tighten wheels.

The four-race suspension for crew chief and pit crew members makes teams extra cautious.

I counted 14 wheels coming off cars during the 2022 season. Seven merited cautions. The remaining seven either happened on pit road, or a car that lost a wheel on track was able to make it back to pit road.

Fourteen wheels is 0.05% of all tires used. Again, this number reflects human error more than any design flaw in the wheels. More concerning to me are the handful of stops where teams couldn’t get wheels off cars. For example, debris between the wheel and hub at Darlington ended up costing Ross Chastain four laps.

The good news is that fewer wheels left cars as the season went on.

  • Eight wheels came off cars in the first third of the season.
  • Four wheels were lost in the second third of the season.
  • Only two wheels failed to stay on in the final third of the season.

As is the case for most statistics in the first year of a new car, these numbers will become more meaningful next year, when they’ll serve as benchmarks.

Goodyear renews agreement to remain NASCAR tire supplier

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NASCAR and Goodyear have entered into a new multi-year agreement maintaining Goodyear’s role as the exclusive tire for NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Goodyear also will be the title sponsor for the Cup race at Darlington Raceway in May 2023. Goodyear and NASCAR’s relationship dates back nearly 70 years and is one of the longest-running affiliations in any sport.

“From our manufacturing plants to offices around the world, racing is ingrained in our culture, and the importance of our relationship with NASCAR is reflected in the quality, performance and engineering we put into every Goodyear Eagle race tire,” said Richard J. Kramer, chairman, chief executive officer and president at Goodyear, in a statement. “Our performance on the racetrack plays an active role in the success of the sport and inspires the development of our consumer tires, fueling our commitment to take performance and innovation to the next level.”

Goodyear produces more than 100,000 tires for NASCAR’s top three series each year at Goodyear’s global headquarters in Akron, Ohio.

“Goodyear has been a trusted partner to the NASCAR industry since 1954, playing a critical role in our shared pursuit to deliver the best racing in the world,” said Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR, in a statement. “For more than 25 years, Goodyear Eagle tires have been the only component that connects the stock car to the racetrack. Our continued partnership will allow us to push boundaries and innovate our racing product for generations to come.”  

Jes Ferreira selected as Comcast Community Champion of the Year

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Comcast announced Jes Ferreira as the 2022 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, the eighth to receive the annual award. Among all the turmoil of the pandemic, Ferreira looked for an opportunity to give back. Despite her heavy workload, she decided to take on an even heavier challenge, becoming a foster parent to two young girls. 

“I am overwhelmed, humbled, and blown away to be recognized as the Comcast Community Champion of the Year,” said Jes Ferreira, 2022 Comcast Community Champion, “the amount of support this will provide for the Charlotte foster families ensures the best services for these children. I hope this sheds light on the foster community and encourages everyone to support in many different ways.” 

Ferreira, originally earned a foster license to become a foster parent for one child, but a few months later, the child’s younger sibling needed a new foster home. Although Ferreira, Senior Director of Live Shows for CSM Production, already had a crazy work schedule which included traveling to the race track most weekends on top of fostering one child as a single parent, she knew without a doubt these two siblings deserved to be together while in foster care. Now two young siblings who are going through the most trying time in their lives have been reunited thanks to Ferreira. 

On any given day, there are nearly 424,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2019, over 672,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care. On average, children remain in state care for over a year and a half, and five percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.  

Ferreira’s affiliated charity is Foster Village Charlotte (FVC), an organization that allows foster parents to connect with and support each other. FVC collaborates with 16 private foster parent licensing agencies, local government, child welfare organizations and the community to serve families holistically and represent the foster family voice to Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS). 

To further honor Jes’ incredible dedication, Comcast will donate $60,000 to Foster Village Charlotte (FVC).

“Jes encompasses everything the Comcast Community Champion of the Year stands for. Anyone that is at the track knows how dedicated Jes is to the sport of NASCAR and, we are so glad we expanded the eligibility for this award so we can uncover and honor the compassion, selflessness and generosity Jes provides off the track, and that is what makes this honor so special, ” said Matt Lederer, Comcast’s Vice President, Brand Partnerships and Amplification.  

 Ferreira, was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as Curtis Francois, the 2021 Comcast Community Champion, who received the award for his work with the Raceway Gives Foundation 

For the first time, Comcast opened the eligibility for anyone in the NASCAR community with a 2022 annual credential or NASCAR full season license, and with this expansion, Comcast is now able to share these exceptional stories.   

Josh Williams, driver of the #92 DGM Racing car for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Sherry Pollex, founder of Sherry Strong, were selected as finalists and will be awarded $30,000 each towards their respective selected charities – the Ryan Seacrest Foundation and Sherry Strong. 

Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about these efforts, visit the Comcast Community Impact site. 

About Comcast Corporation’s Partnership with NASCAR 

Comcast’s Xfinity brand entered NASCAR as entitlement partner of the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015 and is now Premier Partner of the NASCAR Cup Series. Since then, the company has donated $840,000 to more than 20 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and to help further the impact of their worthy causes. Fans can visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com to learn more about past and present finalists and their acts of selflessness.