By Adam Carabine
In his 195th career Cup Series race, Daniel Suarez finally broke through and won at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday. Suarez was already the first Mexican-born driver in the Cup Series, but he became just the fifth winner to not be born in the United States.
The race featured few incidents, with only 2 cautions other than the stage breaks, so track position was key. Suarez had a fast car all weekend, having qualified 8th. A long green flag run played into his hands perfectly.
Suarez acknowledged that 2nd placed finisher Chris Buescher might have had the better car, saying “I knew [he] was very strong in the short run, probably a little bit better than me, but in the middle part of the run I was better than him, and in the long run I feel like I was better than him, and that was able to play out very good at the end.”
“I knew that if I could stay up front for just the first five to seven laps, I was going to be able to control the race. The last 10 to five laps, I was just trying to take care of my tires just in case we had to have a restart.”
The race stayed green, and Suarez crossed the finished line first. He talked about the feelings he was experiencing while taking the checkered flag, “I just didn’t know what to do! It was special. Man, I’ve been working very hard for this moment, not just myself, but my entire team. I’m very, very lucky to have great people around me, in my team, but also outside my team. My family, my beautiful girlfriend Julia, she worked very hard in the last few months keeping me up, and letting me know that I was doing the right things. We just needed to have a clean day, and that’s what we had today.”
He also said that he’d had a good feeling about today even before the race started. “Today just felt special. I told [my girlfriend] this morning that today felt good, and we did it in front of a few hundred Mexicans in Daniel’s Amigos.”
Daniel’s Amigos is a group of local Suarez fans/guests from the Latino community that are personally invited to the race by Daniel. He spent an hour and a half with them earlier Sunday, and saw them cheering him on throughout the race.
Suarez’s win in the #99 Trackhouse Chevrolet Camaro has been a long time coming. His teammate in the #1 has already won two races this season. Team owner Justin Marks had this to say about whether their early success was a surprise: “What I tell people is that I’m not surprised we’re a winning race team because I wouldn’t have started this project if I didn’t think, really truly believe, that the opportunity existed to build a new race team in this sport that could win. It’s just happened really quickly, that’s been the surprise. To me it kind of makes sense because we’ve got such great people that work so hard, and the promise of this car is being delivered every single weekend.”
Crew chief Travis Mack also weighed in on the winning culture at Trackhouse, saying “We’re just having fun! I’ve never been at a place that’s had so much fun and we’re building fast race cars and everybody’s enjoying work, it’s just a great place to be right now. The team chemistry is amazing between the 1 and the 99, it really feels like one team fielding two cars, and we’re just confident in each other and our capabilities of winning races and bringing the best cars to the track every week.”
Suarez’s win came in his sixth full-time Cup Series season, and while he’s remained confident throughout his Cup career, it takes a bit of pressure off of him. He said, “I came from a very humble family, and every step of my life has cost me a lot. I knew it was important to remember that if I was able to come all the way here, I wasn’t going to give up here. But knowing that you hadn’t won yet, there is a little bit of doubt. I knew I was fast, I knew I could race with the guys that are winning, but I hadn’t shown that first victory. […] It was hard to stay on track, but at the end, my team, everyone stayed together and we kept pushing. I told them ‘Bad luck doesn’t last forever, but tough people do.’”