CRANDALL: Daniel (finally) does it

Daniel Suarez didn’t last at Joe Gibbs Racing. At Stewart-Haas Racing, he was unceremoniously told he wasn’t keeping his ride two days before the season finale. Three months later, Suarez did not qualify for the Daytona 500 field with Gaunt Brothers Racing.

So when Suarez won his first NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, it was quite emotional. Now a member of Trackhouse Racing, Suarez has found a home and group of people, starting with owner Justin Marks, who believes in his talent.

“It’s been a rough go,” Suarez summarized after climbing out of his car. “It’s been a rough journey in the Cup Series, and these guys believe in me – Trackhouse Racing, Justin Marks, Ty Norris, and everyone that helped me get to this point. A lot of people in Mexico – my family.

“They never gave up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn’t.”

Suarez’s stint at Gibbs, when he was pulled into the Cup Series after the shocking and unexpected departure of Carl Edwards, was two seasons (2017, ’18). Stewart-Haas only gave him one season (2019). It was again one season at Gaunt, an underfunded team that had never previously run a full campaign.

Marks was unfazed by what Suarez hadn’t done in his first four years. Yes, it was true that Suarez was winless in 143 starts and had not made the playoffs. It was also true that Suarez’s stock likely went down for some in 2020 when he put zeros across the board in top-five finishes, top-10 finishes, poles and had just three top-20 finishes.

And yet, Suarez was the driver Marks hired when he founded Trackhouse Racing and credited the driver and crew chief Travis Mack as having helped “build” the company after Suarez’s win. Marks was also willing to tell anyone who would listen, like RACER in May 2021 and March 2022, that he’s known Suarez has talent.

“He has that chip on his shoulder coupled with that experience, and he’s so focused and so dedicated to his craft that we’ve got the best Daniel Suarez that he’s ever been,” Marks said last year.

Marks doubled down after Suarez’s win.

“Daniel checked a lot of boxes for us right away,” Marks said. “He was an experienced Cup driver. He’s a winner. When he’s been in positions to win, he’s won with his Xfinity championship, his truck wins. And he’s had this chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove to the world that he belonged in the Cup Series.”

Until Sunday, Suarez was the odd man out at Trackhouse, with teammate Ross Chastain already a two-time winner and sitting top five in the points. Suarez was 20th in the standings going to Sonoma and was accused by some of pushing too hard because Chastain was outshining him.

But Suarez disagreed. If he was pushing too hard, Suarez said he would have crashed much earlier than he did in the Coke 600. Charlotte was a missed opportunity for the No.99 team, who drove to the front after numerous setbacks on pit road.

Daniel Suarez in victory lane at Sonoma (Nigel Kinrade/NKP/Motorsport Images)

Charlotte, however, wasn’t the first time Suarez showed potential. Suarez was there in the final laps at Fontana and finished fourth. He led the first 15 laps at Circuit of the Americas and won the stage before the power steering failed. He led 64 laps on the dirt at Bristol, 28 laps at Talladega, and 36 before exiting at Charlotte.

In Sonoma, Suarez led the most laps and didn’t put a wheel wrong in the final 23 laps when the race restarted for the last time. Calm, cool and collected behind the wheel, Suarez kept Chris Buescher in his rearview mirror for much of the final run before driving away by nearly four seconds.

“I just didn’t know what to do,” Suarez said of crossing the finish line. “It was special. Man, I’ve been waiting and 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 and outside my team – my family always supporting me, my beautiful girlfriend Julia that has 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.

“That’s what we had today. Today just felt special. I told her this morning that today felt good, and we did it in front of a few hundred Mexicans and Daniel’s Amigos. So it was just a special day.”

Suarez might not have known what to do right away, but he figured it out. There was the burnout and punching through a taco pinata filled with candy, which one can only hope becomes Suarez’s signature. There were tears of joy and relief before Suarez even got to victory lane, where he doused himself in the track’s celebratory wine.

The 30-year-old worked hard to get to that moment. Not coming from a racing family or one with much money, Suarez was noticed because of his talent and moved to the United States without friends or family and watched Cartoons to teach himself English. Suarez climbed his way through the grassroots divisions to an Xfinity Series championship with Joe Gibbs.

But the farther he climbed, the harder it got. Suarez might not have lasted long with others, but he was determined to last in NASCAR, a

“It has cost me a lot to get to this point,” Suarez said. “A lot of people don’t know that, but it has cost me a lot to get to this country, first, 10 years ago, and to get to this point. Fighting. I come from a very humble family, and every step of my life has cost me a lot. And I know that it’s important to remember if I was able to come all the way here, I wasn’t going to give up here.

“My confidence was high, but obviously, when you haven’t won yet, there’s a little bit of doubt. But I knew that I was fast. I knew that I could race with them, with the guys that are winning. But I haven’t shown that first victory.

“So I told my team, the last five weeks we’ve had very fast race cars, but things happen. The jack broke last week. A few weeks ago, the gun broke. In Charlotte, we were the fast car and missing something on pit road every single time. It was hard to stay on track, but in the end, my team, everyone stayed together and we kept pushing. I told them that bad luck doesn’t last forever and tough people do. And we kept working very hard and here we are.”

There Suarez was. Finally, at the top and enjoying the moment. All Suarez needed was a little time, the right pieces, and the support that perhaps only a former driver – Marks – could give where others seemingly couldn’t for Suarez in the beginning.