By Aaron Burns
Daniel Suarez, a 24-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, claimed top rookie honors after earning three poles and 18 top-10 finishes. With some of the series’ best equipment, Suarez is primed for a breakout year.
Suarez wasn’t sure what to expect when he first climbed into his orange No. 18 ARRIS Toyota at Daytona Int’l Speedway last season.
He came from the NASCAR Mexico Series ranks, where Suarez did everything but win a championship in four years of racing.
Suarez managed to post 10 wins in 58 starts from 2011-14. His three victories in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East during 2013 and 2014 validated Suarez’s potential.
It’s a lot of success for someone who never intended to get into stock-car racing.
Suarez’s first contact with racing was when he tried out a friend’s go-kart. The initial adrenaline rush left Suarez itching for more, and because he proved to be a faster driver, Suarez gained enough backing to forge his own career. He intended to compete in formula-style cars, but NASCAR offered Suarez a unique chance. Reluctantly, Suarez gave it a shot.
“I wasn’t sure it was the right decision,” Suarez said. “I had never raced on an oval. I didn’t know how to race on an oval. The first time I tried it, I thought, ‘Man, this is really difficult.’But I had a lot of fun and got really involved in it.
“My goal was to race in the NASCAR Mexico Series, and after I made that, my goal was to make it to the [NASCAR] Sprint Cup Series.”
Suarez knew he wasn’t going anywhere near NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing unless he moved to the U.S. He had a good reason for being nervous about going stateside, though.
“I didn’t speak English at all,” Suarez recalled. “I didn’t know anyone. It was a big decision, but my manager had a lot of confidence in me. He told me, ‘Move to North Carolina now, and start learning English, because it will help your career.’
“I decided to move to North Carolina and see where it would take me.”
Suarez moved to the Charlotte, North Carolina, area in 2012 and learned to speak fluent English. He also learned how to handle K&N Pro Series cars, which gave Suarez a great primer for what to expect if he got a big-time ride. Suarez didn’t figure he’d land a major ride, let alone one of the NASCAR XFINITY Series’ best.
After he joined NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program in 2013, however, Suarez began to attract a following. He won once in K&N Pro Series competition while driving for Max Siegel’s Rev Racing team, and used even better results the following year to catch the attention of team owner Joe Gibbs.
Gibbs jumped at the chance to hire NASCAR’s only full-time Mexican driver in a national touring series.
Suarez made him look like a genius last year. Now, he wants to win at least one NASCAR XFINITY Series race and compete for the championship. But win or lose, Suarez has his boss’ full support, which is a confidence boost.
Suarez still can’t believe his good fortune, but he’s made others believe in him.
“I never knew how far I’d be able to make it,” Suarez said. “It’s been an incredible couple of years.”